SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon voters will choose candidates Tuesday to compete in the state’s general election, a primary contest that sees Democrats striving to consolidate power and Republicans hoping to make gains.
Democrats in particular have high hopes this year, being only one seat away from a three-fifths majority in both the state House and Senate. Along with being required to raise taxes, the broader margin would give Democrats an advantage pursuing carbon limits, which they have called a priority.
Close races are anticipated especially in a number of legislative districts, including key seats in the state Senate.
Both Republicans and Democrats are watching the outcome of the gubernatorial primary as a bellwether for conservative Oregonians.
As the first statewide regular election since the 2017 inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump, the primary is also widely seen as a referendum on which candidates are appealing to GOP voters.
At least one statewide candidate, GOP gubernatorial contender Sam Carpenter, has fully embraced Trump’s approach, even adopting a “make Oregon great again” campaign slogan.
Asked if a Trump-style campaign might find traction in Oregon, Melissa Garner, a registered Republican, said: “In Oregon? Idaho would be fine,” referring to the state’s more conservative neighbor.
As a Republican in the deep-blue state, Garner said she has limited expectations for her party at the ballot box — part of the reason she hasn’t followed the primary races closely so far.
The race for the Republican nomination for governor has especially seen candidates divide themselves along lines of support for Trump.
While Carpenter has embraced Trump’s rhetoric and policies, State Rep. Knute Buehler, widely figured to be the leading Republican candidate, has repeatedly distanced himself from the president.
Greg Wooldridge, a former Navy pilot from Portland who came in second in a recent Republican straw poll, has sought something of a middle ground, distancing himself from Trump’s attacks on prominent veterans but saying he’s open to some of his ideas.
The three also differ on policy, with Buehler giving mixed support to abortion and Wooldridge taking an opposite stance. Both Carpenter and Wooldridge have opposed a pair of gun-related initiatives. Carpenter went the furthest of the three candidates, saying he’d be in favor of repealing limits on domestic abusers and stalkers owning guns.
At least two state Senate races are also pivotal: the 3rd and 15th districts. Both were last won by only hundreds of votes, and who ends up on the ballot could give either party a crucial edge in the general election.
Republicans won the 3rd Senate District in 2016, but by only 395 votes, or less than a percentage point, and with Republican Sen. Alan DeBoer retiring, no incumbent will be on the ticket. The 15th District will also likely be close: After losing to a Republican in 2010, Democratic Sen. Chuck Riley won it in 2014 by only 287 votes.
Keeping the 15th and winning the 3rd would give Democrats a supermajority in the Senate, but a loss in either would spoil that plan.
House districts in Oregon are safer for Republicans, who held all but one of their seats in the chamber by margins of 5 percentage points or more in the most recent election.
Some local races are also on the radar of poll watchers: Some view Washington County as an indicator of voter sentiment.
And the race for state labor commissioner has heated up: Despite being a nonpartisan seat, prominent Republicans have thrown support behind Lou Ogden, who is running against former Democratic Rep. Val Hoyle.