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Straight Talk: Rep. Kurt Schrader and challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner vie for Oregon's newly-drawn 5th district

McLeod-Skinner argues Schrader is too far to the right for the district, while Schrader said he's bridging the gap between the far right and far left.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Political insiders are predicting the race to represent Oregon's newly redrawn 5th Congressional district could become the nation's "marquee" Democratic House primary to watch, according to Politico.

Seven-term incumbent Kurt Schrader, a moderate Democrat, is being challenged from the left by former congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner from central Oregon. 

They're running in a newly formed district. The boundaries were reshaped by the Oregon Legislature last fall and now include most of Clackamas and Marion Counties, but not Salem. 

The district also encompasses Linn County and extends across the Cascades into a large portion of Deschutes County, where McLeod-Skinner lives in Terrebonne.

Rep. Schrader and Jamie McLeod-Skinner were guests on this week's episode of "Straight Talk."

RELATED: Redistricting explained and how it could affect Oregon

New boundaries, new opportunities

It's estimated about half of the 5th District voters are new to the district, and McLeod-Skinner sees an opening. In 2018, she ran against then-Rep. Greg Walden (R) in a conservative district.  

While she lost the race, she was Walden's most significant challenger and the first to get more than 30 percent of the vote in the 2nd Congressional District. She believes the odds are in her favor in the new 5th District.

"Back in 2018 I ran in the toughest, the most conservative district in Oregon, the toughest place for a Democrat to run, and I had the largest voter swing in any congressional race in the entire country," she said. "I was plus 10 [in the polls] — in contrast, Kurt Schrader in his last race was minus 2. Those numbers are important because this is a D plus one seat — had I run D plus one in 2018, I would have won, hands down. Had Kurt run in a D plus one in 2020, he would have lost."

McLeod-Skinner said Schrader has lost touch with his constituents, pointing to some of Schrader's votes including one against a bill that would have allowed Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, and another against raising the federal minimum wage.

"Kurt Schrader is not the guy we originally sent to Congress," McLeod-Skinner said. "He has gone so far to the right that running to the left of him simply means you're a Democrat."

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Rep. Schrader introduced his own prescription drug price bill he said had a better chance of passing Congress. He said his votes reflect the makeup of his district, which includes Republicans, Democrats, and a large portion of non-affiliated voters.

"This is not an easy district to run in — 40% of the folks have told both parties 'I'm not interested.' They're non-affiliated. So I have to bridge that gap between the far right and the far left (to) represent this district," he said. "We forget that's our job — representation, not being a party ideologue. I am representing this district and proud to have done so for the last 10 years."

Congress and stock trading

Rep. Schrader has also been criticized for violating the Congressional STOCK Act for improperly disclosing corporate stock trades. Business Insider reported that Schrader sold up to $30,000 worth of shares in Charter Communications Inc and insurance giant AON PLC in December and didn't disclose the sales before the required deadline. Schrader said he doesn't personally trade stocks and that all of his investments are handled by an outside firm.

"I support not having members trade stocks. When I first came to Congress I gave that up. I have an independent financial adviser that does all the stock trading for me. I have no idea what's going on in there. I get a report just like everyone else does at the end of the month, and apparently they screwed up and did not report that 'Charter' trade in time," he said.

Schrader said they made the correction as soon as they became aware of the missed deadline.

RELATED: Rep. Schrader defends pharmaceutical donations after vote against drug pricing bill

Senate Democrats have introduced a bill that would ban members of Congress and their families from making trades while in office.  Schrader hasn't signed on to a House version of the bill, but said he'd take a look at it.

"Sounds good to me from the way you describe it. I have not actually seen that particular legislation. As I said, the main thing for viewers to know, I have not actively engaged in any stock trading since I came to the U.S. Congress," he said.

Pitch to voters

Each candidate made their case for why they would best represent Oregon's fifth district. McLeod-Skinner said she would represent families, democracy, and the environment.

"Politics has ripped us apart, and we need to heal. And my leadership has always been about bridging divides," she said. "And if you believe in this vision, I want to ask for your support, because we are up against someone whose corporate PAC money is buying up the airwaves and also pushing out a lot of mistruths, and he's representing those who are paying for those ads and not us."

Schrader said he's proud of the work he has done for the district since 2009 and especially proud of the COVID relief packages and the infrastructure bill Congress passed in his most recent term.

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"I'm really excited about the work we did and folks like myself have the ability to deliver for a tough, tough district like this." he said. "We need people who care about our state, care about our country, and I do deeply and passionately. And I'm very concerned about the extreme partisanship that's infected our political discourse. So, I think it's extremely important to have folks like myself who lived in the district forever. And I've been representing it ever since, and I think doing a pretty darn good job."

Straight Talk airs Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 6:30 p.m.

Straight Talk is also available as a podcast.

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