U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader will assuredly face a challenge from the left if he seeks the Democratic nomination for Oregon’s fifth district in 2022 — and he’ll likely face a primary challenge no matter which House district he opts for next year.
Whether or not Schrader, a moderate Democrat, will run to retain his seat or attempt to slide over into the state’s new sixth congressional district is yet to be determined.
Schrader told OPB earlier this week that he hasn’t made a decision on where he plans to run, and that he and his team would be making an announcement one way or the other in the next few weeks.
“We’re trying to figure that out right now,” Schrader said. “I’ve enjoyed representing the district I currently have… It’s going to be bittersweet no matter how it turns out.”
Oregon’s fifth district currently includes portions of Clackamas, Marion, Polk, Lincoln and Tillamook counties, extending from Portland’s southern suburbs down to Salem and out to the coast.
Following the state’s drama-filled redistricting effort in September, the new fifth district — which takes effect in the 2022 election cycle — now includes most of Clackamas and Marion counties excluding Salem; it also includes Linn County and stretches across the Cascade Range into a large portion of Deschutes County.
Although Schrader lives in Canby, which sits squarely within the new fifth district, federal law does not require members of the House to reside in the district they represent.
That opens the door for Schrader to choose which seat he wants to seek.
It also opens the door for former congressional candidate and Terrebonne resident Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who announced Thursday in a virtual event that she plans to seek the 2022 Democratic nomination in the fifth district.
The home McLeod-Skinner shares with her wife Cass sits just six miles north of the boundary separating Deschutes and Jefferson counties, the line lawmakers used to separate Oregon’s redrawn fifth and second congressional districts.
Her candidacy could once again provide a more liberal challenge to Schrader’s five-term incumbency should he decide to remain in the fifth.
Schrader has long faced criticism from some within his own party for being too moderate. That criticism has grown in recent months as Schrader and a small group of centrist Democrats has hampered efforts by Congressional leaders and the Biden Administration to pass a massive, $1.75 trillion reconciliation and infrastructure package focusing spending on social programs.
Schrader has repeatedly said that it’s the price tag he takes issue with, stating that he can’t support the spending plan even at half the cost of the $3.5 trillion package that Democratic leadership pushed for earlier this year.
McLeod-Skinner has been a frequent candidate for elected office in recent years. Last year, she lost the Democratic primary for Secretary of State. And in 2018, she lost the general election to then-Rep. Greg Walden, in Oregon’s second district. She captured 39% of the vote against Walden, the first challenger to break 30% since he won the seat in 1998.
On Thursday, McLeod-Skinner declared a decidedly left-leaning platform similar to what she pitched in the 2018 House campaign against Walden. She said she will prioritize response to climate change, resilience to natural disasters and helping Oregon families that have struggled economically due to the pandemic.
She’s billing herself as a leader who understands the ins and outs of both rural and urban communities and also wants to bolster the state’s small business community.
She served as city manager for the southern Oregon towns of Phoenix, and, most recently, as Talent’s interim city manager, where she led wildfire recovery efforts following the 2020 Labor Day fires. She left that job in June when the town made a permanent hire.
“Oregon’s working families are proud. We don’t expect the government to do everything, but we’d like a little help during the tough times,” McLeod-Skinner said. “That’s why investments in affordable housing and health care childcare, paid family leave and debt-free community college are important because that’s how we help empower families to rebuild their communities.”
McLeod-Skinner’s campaign got an early boost Thursday from Schrader’s 2020 primary opponent, Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, who joined her event to announce he would not be seeking the Democratic nomination.
“I will be stepping back and putting all my efforts into helping Jamie McLeod-Skinner become the next congresswoman from Oregon’s new Fifth Congressional District,” Gamba told reporters who had gathered virtually.
Gamba ran as a more liberal challenger to Schrader last year and got 23% of the vote. On Thursday, he criticized Schrader’s votes on topics such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and allowing the federal government to directly negotiate prescription drug prices for Medicare patients.
He also condemned comments Schrader made during a conference call with House Democrats in January comparing the impeachment of former President Donald Trump to a “lynching,” for which he later apologized.
“Kurt Schrader continues to prove that he can always be counted on to be a champion for the worst kinds of corporations over the best interests of the hardworking people in his district,” Gamba said.
Gamba said he intended to run against Schrader again in 2022, but after reaching out to other candidates and having discussions about the best option to unseat Schrader, he decided to back McLeod-Skinner.
Gamba didn’t go into specifics about why he feels McLeod-Skinner is the better candidate. Neither Gamba or McLeod-Skinner took questions from reporters during the event.
“Jamie and I talked at length, and I told her early on, ’I don’t personally care if it’s you, or if it’s me,’” he said. “But one of us has to beat Schrader. So if it’s you that has the best shot, I will back you to the hilt.”
McLeod-Skinner kicking off her campaign for Oregon’s fifth this week increases the likelihood that Schrader will face a more liberal primary opponent in either district. The Oregonian/Oregonlive reported earlier this month that State Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, plans to run in the sixth district. Salinas told OPB Thursday that she’s discussing the idea with her family and will make a final decision in a few weeks.