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Wu Faces Strong GOP Challenger In Race For Congress

David Wu has represented Northwestern Oregon in Congress for a dozen years. The national Republican Party has repeatedly targeted him but time and again, he’s survived.

The question this fall, is whether Wu the Democrat can overcome a down economy and a well-funded opponent, to serve two more years. Rob Manning reports.

When Congressman David Wu isn’t in campaign mode, you might find him at a meeting like this. He’s asking transportation experts to improve how they explain traffic engineering to the public.

Rob Manning / OPB

David Wu: “Helping ordinary citizens understand that, is absolutely crucial….”

But David Wu is in campaign mode. In case you weren’t sure, here he is at a groundbreaking last week. Half the funds for the new health clinic came from Washington, DC.  

David Wu: “It is coming here because of the Recovery Act which people say did absolutely nothing. Now I’m not going into this because it’s a debate about the past. I’m going into this because it’s about what we can do for the future!”

Wu didn’t have to raise his voice much in the last few years, as he cruised to easy re-election. The national landscape is different now – with a sluggish economy dragging down support for incumbents.

It’s up to challengers, like Republican Rob Cornilles, to take advantage.

Rob Cornilles: “It’s a very clear decision, or choice, that voters have – who is best able to serve our interests and prepare a better future for this district – Rob Cornilles, or David Wu?”

Rob Manning / OPB

Cornilles used his connections as a sports business consultant to help him win the May Republican primary. He’s raised a total of $607,000, with about 96 percent of that coming from individual donors.

The incumbent Democrat has raised a total of $970,000, with more than one-third of that coming from political action committees,  and a little more than half coming from individuals.

On the issues, Cornilles is as big a critic of the stimulus as Wu is a defender.

Rob Cornilles:  “$850 billion -– unprecedented in American history that we were told would lead to shovel-ready jobs, that we were told would lead to better infrastructure, we were told it would lead to an unemployment rate that wouldn’t exceed eight percent, when in fact, we didn’t get any of that.”

Cornilles says he got into the race to take on the nation’s mounting debt.

Wu says he’s also concerned about the debt, and that’s why he wants to end part of the Bush-era tax cuts – the part for people earning more than $250,000.

Cornilles wants those tax cuts extended. He says it’s because ending the tax breaks would hurt entrepreneurs, like a small business owner he knows in Hillsboro.

Rob Cornilles:  “However, the tax policy that’s coming in 2011, if Congress doesn’t act, will in her words, drive a stake through the heart of her business.”

That’s just the kind of tax break Wu says got the country into economic trouble.

David Wu: “Let’s not change course, let’s not go back to the failed policies of the past, of cheap money, rank speculation, and a bubble economy that ultimately bursts and leaves the broad middle class in free-fall.”

This has become a bit of a campaign refrain for Wu. But debating the past is exactly what Cornilles wants to do.

At a recent debate, for example, Cornilles called for reopening the discussion about health care reform.

Rob Cornilles: “I am convinced and convicted, to go back to Congress and start over on health care reform.”

The two also differ on trade. Cornilles says Wu opposes free trade.

Rob Cornilles: “This is not only something I hear locally, but I hear it back in Washington, D.C., from the people who know best, who are in with him on committees and see his obstructionist view on trade. We must turn this around if we are going to restore jobs and prosperity to Oregonians.”

Wu counters that Cornilles gets support from companies – like Nike– that benefit from imports and foreign labor.

David Wu: “Since you’ve taken me to task so often for not being a good salesman to Asia, even though I’m the one trying to sell there, and you’ve been a proponent of companies that are bringing things into this country, I’m sort of wondering – what would you sell out first: our jobs? Or our values?”

The two candidates agree on one thing: that jobs and economy will be the deciding issue in the race. And that’s what they plan to focus on until November.

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