PORTLAND, Ore. — Booming population growth made Oregon one of just six states to gain an additional seat in the U.S. House following the 2020 census. The state’s population jumped by more than 10% in the past decade to more than 4.2 million people, giving it a new congressional district for the first time in 40 years.
The newly created 6th District stretches from the affluent suburbs southwest of Portland down to the state capital Salem, and also includes rural areas across a broad swath of the Willamette Valley, one of Oregon’s major agricultural regions.
Democrats hope the new district will add to their advantage in Oregon, where they controlled four of the state’s previous five U.S. House seats. But Republicans also see an opportunity in November, hoping to capitalize on dissatisfaction with the party in power amidst soaring inflation.
But issue of abortion could complicate GOP efforts to win in a district many observers saw tilting toward the Democrats even before the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
“These are really favorable conditions for Republicans,” said Christopher Stout, associate professor of political science at Oregon State University. “But the last couple weeks have kind of switched that around.”
Recent polling has showed suburban women opposing the U.S. Supreme Court’s action that has allowed some states to greatly restrict or ban abortion.
Andrea Salinas, the Democratic candidate running in the 6th, says abortion is one of her main issues. When the Supreme Court draft decision was leaked two weeks before the Oregon primaries, she said abortion care was practically all she heard about from voters on the campaign trail.
“People actually stopped me on the street when I was knocking on doors and recognized me from the ad that I did,” Salinas said. In April, she put out a TV ad saying “Let’s face it: we’re about to lose our right to choose,” in which she highlighted her support for Oregon’s 2017 Reproductive Health Equity Act expanding abortion access and requiring insurers to fully cover reproductive health care with no out-of-pocket costs.
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Salinas advocated for the bill while working as a political consultant before assuming office in the state House in 2017.
But while opinion polls show an uptick in the number of people listing abortion as a top issue, economic concerns remain at the forefront of voters’ minds.
Mike Erickson, the Republican candidate in Oregon’s 6th District, says this is what he wants to focus on.
In an email, Erickson said Democrats “have no solution to help struggling Oregon families afford their everyday necessities.”
“Instead, they’re talking about a decision made by the Supreme Court that simply put the issue of abortion back in the hands of Oregon voters,” he said.
The national campaign arms of both parties are watching the race. Erickson has been listed as “on the radar” by the National Republican Congressional Committee. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee named Salinas to its “Red to Blue” program, a move not only providing her with organizational and financial support, but also indicating the party’s concerns about how safe the seat may be.
In order to push back against Salinas’s projected advantage, Erickson will have to woo independents, who outnumber both Republicans and Democrats in the district. Approximately 165,000 non-affiliated voters are registered there, compared to Democrats’ roughly 148,000 voters and Republicans’ nearly 122,000 voters, according to data from the Oregon Secretary of State.
This is the third time Erickson has run for Congress. In past campaigns, he’s run on an anti-abortion platform.
The latest campaign finance data shows Erickson has raised roughly $723,000 so far, with more than half coming from his own money. That's some $80,000 more than Salinas, and the DCCC estimates she'll need to raise at least $5 million to win the race. But Salinas “fundraises really well,” according to OSU’s Stout, and she may be able to further mobilize voters with the historic nature of her campaign.
If she wins in November, Salinas will be the first Latina from Oregon elected to Congress.
Stout says that Democrats “can’t overlook the possibility that a Republican could win this district, because that is a real possibility.” But he added that “the overturning of Wade has energized Democrats.”
“If this momentum continues, I think we’ll see a lot of Democrats turning out,” Stout said.
Rush is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.