Latino voters could play a critical role in deciding Oregon 6th District race

By April Ehrlich (OPB)
Oct. 25, 2022 1 p.m.

It’s the first election year that Oregon’s Democratic leaders will see how their redistricting efforts play out with the newly formed District 6.


But that district — which majority Democrats had an upper hand in designing last year — is showing to be tougher than they may have initially expected.

Many polls show a tossup, including the influential Cook Political Report, while some others like FiveThirtyEight show a slight Republican lead. Like several other congressional races across the country, Latino voters could play an influential role in the outcome.

The district covers Salem, Polk County, Yamhill County, and some Portland suburbs, and at first glance appears to favor Democrats. The region leaned heavily blue in the 2020 presidential election, with 55% voting for President Joe Biden versus 42% for former President Donald Trump, according to precinct-level data compiled by Dave’s Redistricting App.

Oregon's U.S. House District 6.

But a lot has happened since the 2020 election. The global economic fallout resulting from the pandemic persists — as inflation, gas prices and housing costs squeeze voters’ pocketbooks — and social tensions continue to rile political parties. The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade has brought abortion access to the forefront of state issues, and the national debate about how to handle immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border endures.

Oregon District 6 candidates are well aware of those tensions. Republican businessman Mike Erickson, characterizing himself as the pro-business candidate, says his career as a distribution consultant makes him well-suited to address inflation and economic issues. He calls himself a “political outsider” — though he ran for the Oregon House of Representatives in 1988 and 1992, as well as for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District in 2006 and 2008. He lost in all four elections.

Democratic state Rep. Andrea Salinas aims to solve issues like homelessness and health care costs through social service initiatives. She’s been a state representative for Oregon’s 38th Legislative District since 2017 when she was appointed to fill a vacancy. She was then elected for the position in 2018 and 2020.

Both candidates have addresses in Lake Oswego, but neither lives within the bounds of the 6th District, which isn’t a requirement for Congress.

One potential key to this race is which candidate can most appeal to Latino voters. This district has the largest Latino population of any Oregon congressional seat, according to Dave’s Redistricting data, with 21% of the population identifying as Hispanic compared to 14% across the state. But it’s difficult to pinpoint where that vote will fall, as Latino voters, like any other demographic, are split on several issues.

Oregon State Rep. Andrea Salinas is running to represent the state's new sixth congressional district.

Oregon State Rep. Andrea Salinas is running to represent the state's new sixth congressional district.

Andrea Salinas for Congress

Salinas says her father immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in 1950. If she wins, she’d be the first Latina elected to Congress from Oregon. Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer is also hoping to nab that distinction in the state’s 5th Congressional District. Salinas’ potential to make history resonates with many Latino people in the region, according to Jaime Arredondo, a longtime Salem resident who also leads the farmworkers’ rights nonprofit, Capaces.

“[She’s] someone who can champion issues here for Latinos in this region, in this state,” Arredondo said. “She was a champion for the farmworker overtime bill, for example. So I think she connects with a lot of folks down here in terms of story.”

With that bill, which passed the Legislature in March, Oregon became the eighth state to mandate overtime pay for farmworkers.

Salinas also comes with the backing of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Latino Victory Fund. Both cited her stances on health care, reproductive rights and the environment as reasons for supporting her campaign.

Even so, Salinas hasn’t done a lot of direct campaigning to Latino voters — she spoke at El Grito Portland, an event celebrating Mexican Independence Day — but doesn’t mention her Latino heritage in commercials broadcasting in the district, instead focusing on refuting her challenger’s claims that she’ll be soft on crime.

That appears to be Erickson’s main tool in swaying voters to his side: arguing that Salinas’s crime-and-punishment policies won’t have teeth. Coincidentally, both candidates say they have fathers with 30-year backgrounds as police officers, and they point to that as signifiers of how they’ll address public safety — though this position in Congress wouldn’t give them control over local crime-fighting initiatives.

Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson

Erickson, meanwhile, doesn’t appear to be campaigning to the Latino voters in this district at all. Erickson tends to aim his messaging to farmers, rather than farm workers. On his campaign website, he highlights his advocacy for stricter immigration policies and says he will help “finish the wall” if he’s elected. In an OPB questionnaire, he says one of the actions he’ll take if elected is to “curtail drug trafficking through our unsecured border.”

Even so, the issue of abortion could be what splits Latino voters between Salinas and Erickson.

“Many Latinos, in my experience, are religious folks,” said Arredondo, who immigrated to Salem from Michoacan, Mexico, in 1990. “Those can be places of a lot of tension, around that topic.”

Erickson is staunchly anti-abortion, a stance that Arredondo said could pull some religious Latino people to his side. Erikson is also marred by a salacious 2008 story in which his ex-girlfriend alleged he paid for her abortion in 2000. Shortly after that story was published, Erickson told the Oregonian/OregonLive that he didn’t knowingly pay for her abortion; rather, he gave her $300 dollars and dropped her off for a doctor’s appointment without knowing how the money would be used. He said their relationship ended after that. He has since married a nurse, Katie Erickson, with whom he has two children.

Regardless of Erickson’s stance — and his alleged personal actions — relating to abortion, the issue might not have the biggest sway for the region’s Latino voters. A New York Times poll from September shows a majority of Latino voters are more concerned about economic issues over societal ones like abortion. In that sense, Erickson is taking the same bet in Oregon’s 6th that Republicans across the country are these midterms: that high gas prices and inflation will favor them, even in districts where Democrats once thought they had an advantage.