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In key Oregon swing district, US House candidates face uphill battle for moderate vote

Campaign images of Republican U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, left, and Democrat Janelle Bynum, candidates in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District race in November 2024.

Campaign images of Republican U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, left, and Democrat Janelle Bynum, candidates in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District race in November 2024.

Courtesy of the campaigns / OPB

The stage is set, and it’s a rematch.

The candidates for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District — state Rep. Janelle Bynum and Republican U.S. Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer — have gone head-to-head twice before in Oregon House races in the Portland suburbs.

But now they’ll face off in a new territory, a swing district that in 2022 was decided by just two percentage points. In a presidential election year all but certain to divide Americans along national party lines, political experts say these two candidates will confront unique challenges appealing to a key group: moderate voters.

In the 2022 general election, more than a quarter of the votes in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District — nearly 100,000 people — came from people who registered as non-affiliated or with the Independent Party, according to Oregon Secretary of State voter registration data.

Related: Primary election: Get the latest news and see detailed vote counts

As of this month, about 40% of the region’s registered voters are non-affiliated or independent, data show. That’s 214,703 people, or about 20,000 more than the same time in 2022.

“If the race proves to be very close, then a small middle ground that may consist of people who might be willing to shift their view may prove to be important,” said Richard Clucas, a political science professor at Portland State University.

House Republicans represent 16 districts that President Joe Biden won in 2020. Oregon’s 5th Congressional District is one of them. That places this year’s election in the national political crosshairs, a race that experts say could once again be decided by a slim margin.

Bynum has won each time the candidates have battled before. Repeatedly, she touted this fact in her victorious primary campaign against Jamie McLeod-Skinner over the past few months. But those victories came in a much smaller, suburban area around Happy Valley in Clackamas County.

Now she’ll face Chavez-DeRemer in a district that includes large swaths of rural Oregon, communities that have historically favored Republicans and were key to the U.S. representative’s victory in 2022.

Though she lost in Clackamas, Multnomah and Deschutes counties in 2022, the Chavez-DeRemer’s most resounding victories came in Linn and Marion counties, which encompass many of the district’s smallest communities.

And Bynum will face additional challenges wooing voters who might be frustrated with Portland’s direction and disenchanted with the state’s Democratic establishment, many of whom have endorsed her.

“Democrats control the state in Oregon, so she will be kind of associated with that,” said Ben Gaskins, a political science professor at Lewis & Clark College. “And to the degree that voters see the state government and the local government as a failure, that’s something that she’s going to be associated with and something that Chavez-DeRemer is definitely going to try to connect her to.”

He added, “Bynum will have to toe a careful line.”

And so will Chavez-DeRemer, experts say. Gathering support from moderate voters could prove difficult given her endorsement of former President Donald Trump and her backing of Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson as speaker of the House of Representatives, who Democrats have labeled an extremist.

“You can’t get away from the connection with Donald Trump,” Gaskins said. “He looms large over politics everywhere, and in a swing race she will be connected to him.”

At her election watch party on Tuesday, Bynum wasted no time associating Chavez-DeRemer with Trump, his Make America Great Again movement and the fall of abortion rights in America.

She criticized the congresswoman’s voting record on reproductive rights issues, adding she “proudly endorsed Donald Trump while gutting funding for the critical services that Oregonians rely on.” Bynum’s statement was met with a chorus of boos from her supporters.

“That’s what Lori Chavez-DeRemer has to combat against, to show she’s not just a national, go-along player,” Jim Moore, a political science professor and administrator at Pacific University, said in April.

To garner support, experts say they expect Chavez-DeRemer to focus on local issues — housing affordability, child care, homelessness — and her accomplishments in Congress, rather than national politics. But avoiding the connection with Trump might prove impossible.

“I’m sure there will be millions that will be spent that will be reminding voters of her past behavior,” said Clucas. “She’s going to have to find somewhere to make inroads to the other side, so it does make sense to try to moderate her perspective and downplay some things. But it seems like Trump doesn’t always like people who try to distance themselves from him.”

In a statement Tuesday kicking off the general election, Chavez-DeRemer touted an analysis that indicated she had the second-most bipartisan voting record in Congress.

“As an independent voice for Oregon, I’ve worked across the aisle to lower costs, tackle the fentanyl crisis, and reduce crime,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “I’m honored to have such a strong coalition of support from Oregonians of all backgrounds — Republicans, Democrats, and Independents — and I’ll continue fighting tirelessly to grow our movement so we can keep building a better Oregon by advancing commonsense solutions.”

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