Oregon’s newest House district is holding its first general election

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – On paper, Oregon’s newly created 6th Congressional District appears to be leaning Democratic.

Its boundaries, drawn by the Democratic-controlled Legislature during redistricting last year following the 2020 Census, have made it a relatively safe seat for the party. It includes the state capital of Salem and parts of the affluent southwest suburbs of Portland. And while it also stretches in rural areas across the Willamette Valley, President Biden would hold it by about 13 points.

Registered Democratic voters outnumber Republicans, and many of those voters are excited about the abortion issue.

Analysts point to those structural advantages as favoring Democrat Andrea Salinas, a state representative and former congressional staffer, over Republican Mike Erickson, a businessman running for Congress for the third time.

But the GOP capitalized on stubbornly high inflation, crime and discontent with the party in power.

“It’s a much closer race than one would expect, given the demographics and the partisan makeup of that district,” said Christopher Stout, an associate professor of political science at Oregon State University.

The population boom made Oregon one of only six states to gain an extra seat in the U.S. House after the 2020 census. The state’s population has jumped more than 10% in the past decade to 4.2 million people, giving it a new congressional district for the first time in 40 years.

That boom has been driven in part by an increase in the state’s Latino population, which grew by 31% between 2010 and 2020, census data show. Parts of the three counties with the largest Latino populations in the state are included in the new 6th District.

Salinas, a Democrat, is Latina and often tells the story of her father’s immigration to the US from Mexico. She is one of two candidates running to become Oregon’s first Latina elected to Congress, along with Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer of the 5th District.

Nationally, about two-thirds of Latino voters supported Biden in the 2020 election, according to AP VoteCast, while about a third supported Trump. That’s in line with how Latinos have voted in other recent elections, according to AP VoteCast and Pew Research Center polls. But in some states the numbers were different: For example, 45% of Latinos in Florida voted for Trump, along with 42% in Nevada, according to VoteCast.

“I would be surprised if Latinos and Latinos moved strongly toward Erickson,” said OSU’s Stout, whose research includes racial and ethnic politics. “I don’t think Erickson has the same ties to those communities as Salinas.”

Analysts say the biggest question this midterm cycle will be whether voters prioritize abortion or inflation on the ballot.

An AP-NORC poll conducted in July found that more Americans disapprove than approve of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, 53% to 30%. And a June AP-NORC poll found a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans who named abortion a top issue after the decision — but the same poll found an even higher percentage of Americans cited inflation or personal finances as top issues.

Republicans have embraced those concerns along with the low approval ratings of Democrat President Biden and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown.

“Having the most important state elected official in your state be so deeply unpopular is just a real drag on any Democrat running,” said pollster John Horvick, senior vice president of DHM Research.

“Salinas has a lot of obstacles,” Horvick said. But the abortion issue gives her “an opportunity to talk about something other than crime, homelessness and inflation.”

Salinas, who describes herself on her campaign website as an “unapologetic advocate for abortion access,” attacked Ericson for his anti-abortion stance.

The abortion issue proved tricky for Ericson, who was dogged by earlier media reports in 2008 in which a woman he was dating claimed he had given her money for an abortion in 2001. The reports hurt his second House campaign. year, which he lost to Democrat Kurt Schrader.

Erickson said he gave the woman $300 for what he believed was medical attention. He said that he left her with the doctor, but that he did not know that she would miscarry.

“I have never asked anyone to have an abortion,” Erickson told The Associated Press.

In a phone interview, Erickson said he thinks there should be exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. He also said he would not support a federal abortion ban introduced by South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.

“I would not support Lindsey Graham’s national abortion proposal. I would say no to that,” Erickson told the AP. “I think the Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government should not be in the business of making abortion decisions for people across this country.”

Although abortion remains legal in Oregon, Salinas echoed warnings from national Democrats about the GOP-backed federal abortion ban.

“I think there’s reason for people in this county to fear losing access to abortion care,” she told the AP. She said she would support abortion protections across the country.

Both candidates will have to win over independent voters, who outnumber Republicans and Democrats in the district. Roughly 167,000 unaffiliated voters are registered there, compared to about 148,000 Democrats and 122,000 Republicans, according to the Oregon Secretary of State.

Democrats made abortion the centerpiece of their midterm messaging in hopes of continuing to galvanize voters as it did over the summer after the Supreme Court decision. In statewide elections in August, traditionally conservative Kansas voted in favor of abortion rights, and the issue gave Democrats better-than-expected results in some special elections.

“Abortion is different from any other issue we look at because of the intensity that people feel about it, especially women,” said Elaine Karmack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. “Intensity is what makes people get up on a rainy day and go out and vote.”


Claire Rush is a staff 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 hidden issues. Follow her on Twitter: @ClaireARush

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