Oregon Battle: GOP to spend $1.2 million to topple Dems for State Senate
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Democrats are responding with $4.4 million of their own spending as they try to fight off Republican challengers and possibly establish a super majority that would give them free rein to raise taxes.
“It will be the largest investment in legislative races in our history,” said Doug Moore, executive director of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters (OLCV). “This is a very significant scale.”
The party split in the Senate is close, with 14 Republicans and 16 Democrats.
The Democrats have held power in the Senate, House and the Governor’s office since 2012. But this year all eyes are on the Senate; the Republicans have a real shot at shaking up the status quo.
The power could be tipped depending on a few nail-biting races.
“I think just about everybody is focused on the Oregon Senate,” said Len Bergstein, president of Northwest Strategies, Inc.
Political experts say turning just one seat on either side could tip the balance of power in the Senate. If Republicans pick up one seat, they would be able to block Democratic bills.
On the flip side, if Democrats could gain two seats and lose none, they would have a super majority advantage. That would allow them to raise taxes along party line votes without Republican support.
Planned Parenthood is also keeping a sharp eye on some close races and focusing on door-to-door campaigning.
“The Senate Republicans are coming after the Senate president with an extreme candidate,” said Laura Terrill Patten, executive director of Planned Parenthood. “The differences between our champions and those on the other side are incredibly stark.”
The five critical races are:
- Peter Courtney, D, vs. Patti Milne, R, in Salem
- Alan Bates, D, vs. Dave Dotterrer, R, in Medford
- Betsy Close, R, vs. Sara Gelser, D, in Albany
- Alan Olsen, R, vs. Jaime Damon, D, in Clackamas County
- Bruce Starr, R, vs. Chuck Riley, D, in Hillsboro
The heat on candidates starts at the top.
Republicans have honed in on Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, focusing on attacking Courtney. In one ad, a voiceover says:
Milne blasts Salem politicians in the same ad, accusing them of being “out of touch, raising taxes on hard-working families.”
“That, of course, creates in Peter high anxiety and high drama,” Bergstein said.
While Courtney has raised more money and has been in office since 1998, becoming Senate president in 2003, Milne is running a strong campaign, said Jim Moore, political science professor at Pacific University. He added the attacks could throw Courtney, who traditionally has been opposed to negative ads.
“It’s gone negative for Oregon,” Jim Moore said.
One of the hot races is down in Medford, where Bates is trying to cling to his seat. Dotterer ran four years ago and lost against Bates by only 275 votes, Jim Moore said. And it’s just as fierce this time around, as Dotterer has brought in more campaign cash than Bates by more than $130,000.
“They’re going at each other like it’s going out of style,” Moore said.
In the 20th district, Republican incumbent Alan Olsen is getting heavy push back from Jamie Damon. Although Democrats have an 11 percent voter registration edge, the district in Clackamas County tends to be more conservative, Bergstein said.
He said Damon has a shot, but that he gives the edge to Olsen.
“She’s really a top candidate in a tough district,” he said of Damon, who has raised just a few thousand more dollars than Olsen.
While Republicans are pouring in hefty campaign contributions, their money is still dwarfed by big, out-of-state liberals trying to influence policy.
With the stakes high, special interest groups are pouring in the cash and ramping up negative ads.
Everytown for Gun Safety, a national group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has pumped over $20,000 into Democrat Chuck Riley’s campaign for Senate District 15, held by Republican Bruce Starr of Hillsboro.
Legislation aimed at establishing gun background checks died in the Senate last session because proponents lacked one vote. All 14 Republicans and one Democrat were opposed.
The influx of outside money has gun advocates on edge.
“When a billionaire comes to town to attack you, you have to pay attention,” said Kevin Starrett, executive director of the Oregon Firearms Federation. He added that his group also planned to focus resources on that race. Oregon Shooting Association President Nelson Shew said he is also mobilizing supporters to back Starr.
And billionaire Tom Steyer’s environmental group, NextGen, is working with the Oregon League of Conservation Voters to unseat Starr and help Democrat Sara Gelser knock off Betsy Close in Albany’s District 8.
Doug Moore of OLCV won’t say how much environmental groups plan to spend, but said liberals are prepared for a big push.
Jim Moore said, drama or not, all the races matter.
“It’s important that people realize the state legislatures have by far the biggest impact on peoples lives,” he said.
“Way more than Congress. Way more than the president.”
Related Slideshow: Slideshow: Oregon Senate Race Candidates
Democrats and Republicans are pouring millions of dollars into five Oregon state Senate seats in an effort to gain control of the upper chamber.
The Democrats have held power in the Senate, House and the Governor’s Office since 2012. But this year all eyes are on the Senate and the Republicans’ have a real shot at shaking the status quo.