Early results in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District show a race too close to call Tuesday night between Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, and it could take multiple days for a winner to emerge.
Despite massive spending throughout the campaign, neither woman had a decisive lead in the early returns reported by the Oregon Secretary of State’s office Tuesday. Chavez-DeRemer held a slight edge in the votes counted as of 11 p.m., a little more than 10,000 votes in favor of the Republican. Many thousands of votes still needed to be counted in Clackamas County, a large population center that could decide who replaces the outgoing Rep. Kurt Schrader in the seat.
Attending a packed Democratic watch party in Bend, McLeod-Skinner told OPB she expected to be behind in the race early, but said the numbers could tighten as more votes are counted over the next couple of days.
“You always prefer being up to being down, but we expected that,” McLeod-Skinner said. “We’ll see what the final results hold; we knew this was gonna be really close.”
Part of the race’s unpredictability came from redistricting in 2020, which led to a shuffling of the district’s boundaries. That means the traditionally Democratic seat based around Salem and south Multnomah County is now more evenly split between conservatives and liberals, with places like Bend, Albany and Chavez-DeRemer’s hometown, Happy Valley, as the main population centers.
Millions of dollars poured into the race from around the country. The latest figures showed McLeod-Skinner raising more than $3 million, double that of Chavez-DeRemer. That manifested in a barrage of aggressive ads from both campaigns that reached a fever pitch by Election Day.
McLeod-Skinner’s campaign even ran a series of negative ads against Chavez-DeRemer over the past couple of weeks. She said that was in response to the many negative ads that political action committees had broadcasted across the district, which she described as false.
“We were just trying to call it some of the key distinctions of the race,” McLeod-Skinner said. “There were statements made about me that were simply untrue.”
Despite that funding gap, analysts predicted an extremely tight race for the freshly drawn district. The New York Times, Cook Political Report and others gave predicted Chavez-DeRemer to pull out a tight victory in the run-up to Election Day.
A spokesperson for Chavez-DeRemer said the Republican did not plan to speak Tuesday night as votes continued to be counted.
The race saw both candidates searching for issues that might resonate with voters in the redrawn boundaries.
Chavez-DeRemer focused little on abortion in her campaign, frequently changing her stance on the issue. At one point, she favored a six-week ban — also known as a “heartbeat bill” — later saying she wanted abortion protected in the first trimester, and even that the federal government should leave those decisions up to the states.
Instead, the former Republican mayor of Happy Valley honed in on crime and economic issues in an effort to appeal to suburban and more rural parts of the district.
Some former colleagues on the Happy Valley City Council told OPB they noticed Chavez-DeRemer’s views had shifted rightwards since she launched her campaign, specifically related to abortion and public safety.
By comparison, McLeod-Skinner focused on abortion frequently in speeches and her campaign ads, a similar approach to the campaign season as Democrats across the country who had hoped their supporters would mobilize following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Oregon’s results will take days to finish tallying, as a 2021 change allows voters to still have their vote counted as long as it is mailed by Election Day.
The outcome of the race will be a political milestone for whichever candidate wins, as both candidates have failed in prior attempts at higher office. Chavez-DeRemer ran for the state House twice and lost, while McLeod-Skinner lost a previous congressional race and a run for Oregon’s attorney general.
This is a developing story and may be updated.