In Oregon’s extremely tight US 5th District race, candidates take vastly different approaches

By Joni Auden Land (OPB)
Oct. 25, 2022 12 p.m.

Republicans are eyeing a potential pick-up in the freshly drawn district

When it comes to party politics, Albany Mayor Alex Johnson II prides himself on being as neutral as possible. He even wears purple to all his public appearances to avoid any hint of partisanship.


His city, with a population of nearly 55,000, could be critically important in one of this year’s tightest congressional races, Oregon’s 5th Congressional District. So, he interviewed both candidates for a potential endorsement and felt the two opponents were taking very different approaches.

He felt that Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner focused more on local issues, while Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer focused more on what Johnson described as “national talk points” like critical race theory and border security.

“I felt that she was more with the national party line,” he said of Chavez-DeRemer. “That was not something I cared about.”

Those differing strategies have been apparent during the campaign for what’s predicted to be an extremely close race in Oregon’s 5th District. Various polls show a virtual dead heat between McLeod-Skinner and Chavez-DeRemer.

Oregon's U.S. House District 5.

A local approach to a federal race

The campaign is taking place in a freshly redrawn district, which stretches from Clackamas County all the way to Bend and Albany, covering many conservative and liberal strongholds in Oregon.

McLeod-Skinner, a lawyer in Terrebonne, pulled a shock win over longtime incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary, where she was seen as more progressive compared to the moderate Schrader.

Despite vastly outraising McLeod-Skinner and receiving an endorsement from President Joe Biden, Schrader struggled to attract local party support after he pushed back on legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

McLeod-Skinner has some government experience, having previously served on the City Council in Santa Clara, California, for eight years and as city manager in the Oregon cities of Phoenix and Talent, but she has never held federal office.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner celebrated on election night in Redmond, Ore., May 17, 2022.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner celebrated on election night in Redmond, Ore., May 17, 2022.

Emily Cureton / OPB

McLeod-Skinner has focused much of her campaign on climate change and told OPB it’s a topic that voters in the district are particularly concerned about right now. She said the area around Santiam Pass is one that’s been hit especially hard by drought.

“I get a lot of support from Republicans who just want someone who understands the issues and takes it seriously and doesn’t have those platitude responses,” she said.

She’s also spoken frequently about accountability and said she thinks those in Congress should not buy or trade stocks, since the laws they pass can greatly influence the markets.

Abortion is one national issue McLeod-Skinner’s campaign has embraced, however, as party officials hope for a backlash to Republicans in November after the U.S. Supreme Court revesed its previous Roe v. Wade decision. McLeod-Skinner has made access to abortion a main part of her campaign and has attacked her opponent’s shifting views on the issue.

The race has attracted plenty of national attention as a potential pick-up for Republicans in 2022 after Schrader’s defeat in the primary. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican SuperPAC, has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in attack ads against McLeod-Skinner.

McLeod-Skinner told OPB the ads contain false information about her background, such as claiming she wanted to defund the police.

She called the ads a distraction from the issues.

“It was a cheap hit piece,” she said. “When our messaging and what we stand for and our experience goes side-by-side, I win hands down.”


While she’s received donations from organizations that support defunding police departments, McLeod-Skinner hasn’t said that’s a policy she supports, according to KGW News.

National talking points in a new district

The focus on national themes promoted by the Republican party extends beyond attack ads on McLeod-Skinner. Chavez-DeRemer has made those issues central to her campaign.

In her ads and on her website, the former mayor of Happy Valley frequently discusses the need to address immigration at the U.S.-Mexico border. She even visited the border in Hidalgo, Texas, as part of her campaign. She has said drugs coming over the border are directly contributing to the homelessness crisis facing much of Oregon.

Lori Chavez-DeRemer, Republican candidate in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, 2022.

Lori Chavez-DeRemer, Republican candidate in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, 2022.

Courtesy of Lori Chavez-DeRemer

She has also criticized critical race theory, which is generally taught in colleges, and claimed it was being taught in Oregon schools. Critical race theory is an advanced academic concept that shows systemic racism is inherent in American society. Critics have used the term as an inaccurate catch-all to characterize lessons and policies related to race and equity in K-12 schools. In explaining her views, Chavez-DeRemer cited an Oregonian/OregonLive article, which does not say that critical race theory is being taught.

Despite the national slant to her campaign, Chavez-DeRemer is relying on her experience as mayor from 2011 to 2018 as evidence she would represent Oregon well as the state’s potentially first Latina congressional representative. She often points to her time running the rapidly growing city of Happy Valley as evidence that she can listen to constituents and find policy decisions that benefit everyone.

Chavez-DeRemer’s willingness to hear all sides of an issue may dissuade some voters, however, especially those who are focused on abortion following the Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade.

Chavez-DeRemer has accepted campaign donations from national anti-abortion groups. And her stated views on abortion have changed frequently during the campaign. At one point Chavez-DeRemer said she supported banning abortions at six weeks, but later told KGW she did not support any federal restrictions on abortions.

On Oct. 19, she told OPB she supports abortion access being protected in the first trimester, as well as in cases of rape and incest.

Candidates’ peers notice a shift in political tenor

Chavez-DeRemer’s views haven’t gone unnoticed by those who worked with her during her time in Happy Valley, another important population center in the district. Markley Drake has been a city councilor in the Portland suburb for 14 years; he told OPB he thought Chavez-DeRemer did a good job as mayor.

He pointed to a dispute over boundaries between Happy Valley and the nearby city of Damascus as an example of deftly managing tough situations.

“She was one of our best mayors,” Drake said. “Lori had to make a lot of decisions as a mayor and she was kind of the lead person.”

Despite his positive feelings toward his former mayor, Drake said he endorsed McLeod-Skinner in the race. He said Chavez-DeRemer’s views have become far more conservative since announcing her candidacy, in ways that don’t reflect the city official he once knew. He pointed to her stance on abortion as an example.

“I think she’s lost her way — Lori used to be very pragmatic,” Drake said. “Whenever I talked to her, she was definitely in support of women’s choice.”

Chavez-DeRemer responded that she’s received three endorsements from other members of the City Council and that Drake’s views are not indicative of her experience.

“Markley Drake is an outgoing city councilor who does not offer a full picture of the years of bipartisan work I’ve done as mayor, whether it was supporting our veterans, creating a Happy Valley Youth Council to combat online bullying, or paying off our city debts,” she said.

Rob Wheeler, a former mayor in Happy Valley who also worked with Chavez-DeRemer, said he thought focusing on public safety would benefit the Republican’s campaign. He said he hears from people living in Clackamas County who are worried about crime increases in Portland and will vote accordingly.

He said it’s politically advantageous for Republicans to focus on Portland, even though very little of the city is in the 5th District.

“People just want to feel safe in their homes,” said Wheeler, who endorsed Chavez-DeRemer. “We want to distinguish ourselves from Multnomah County.”

Wheeler agreed Chavez-DeRemer has shifted to the right since they worked together on the Happy Valley City Council, but said he shares many of her views.

For Johnson, the Albany mayor, McLeod-Skinner has his support. More than that, though, he said he wants both parties to focus more on the platforms of the candidates, rather than negative campaigning that could contain untrue information.

“I think people are sick and tired of the arguments,” he said. “I wish that was illegal — I honestly believe that should go away.”