High-profile Democratic congressional race heats up ahead of Oregon primary election

By Bryce Dole (OPB )
April 30, 2024 11 a.m.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Janelle Bynum are locked in one of the nation’s most-watched congressional primaries. The race to challenge Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer is heating up.

(Left to right) Democratic Party primary candidates for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, Janelle Bynum and Jamie McLeod-Skinner, in undated photos provided by the campaigns.

(Left to right) Democratic Party primary candidates for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, Janelle Bynum and Jamie McLeod-Skinner, in undated photos provided by the campaigns.

Photos courtesy of the campaigns / OPB


The Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District may be one of the nation’s most closely watched elections.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: A victory in November could decide which party controls Congress.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, an attorney from Terrebonne who has twice won Democratic nominations for Congress but lost the general election, faces Oregon state Rep. Janelle Bynum, a Happy Valley Democrat and fourth-term legislator who has never run for Congress.

The winner will take on Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a first-term Republican U.S. representative who narrowly defeated McLeod-Skinner in the 2022 election.

It’s one of the few congressional races in the country this year that could be a true tossup, according to political experts. Chavez-DeRemer is one of more than a dozen Republicans who represent districts that Biden won in 2020.

Whoever wins the primary will be a critical part of the national Democratic strategy to take back the U.S. House of Representatives as a presidential election between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump looms.

“It is one of the hot ones in the entire country,” Jim Moore, a political science professor and administrator at Pacific University, said of the race.

Candidates are trying to sway voters across the politically diverse district, which spans from the Portland suburbs, east through rural communities in the Cascade Mountains until it ends in the high-desert in Central Oregon.

They have visited towns like Bend, Scio and Oregon City, the seat of Clackamas County, a populous and politically split suburban region that experts say will be key to winning the election. On April 17, they spoke there in the Tumwater Ballroom, which sits high above Willamette Falls, as their campaigns worked the crowd in a room full of power brokers and local officials.

Meanwhile, there are clear signs that things are heating up.

McLeod-Skinner, 56, has been dogged by media reports this year in which former campaign staffers allege she created a toxic work environment. She denies those claims and says they are politically motivated. Bynum’s campaign has placed these allegations directly on her website, saying: “These aren’t Oregon values — Jamie is not fit to represent us in Congress.”

“The vast majority really appreciate my leadership,” McLeod-Skinner said in an interview with OPB. “If someone’s had a negative experience, I feel terrible about that … Campaigns are stressful. They’re not for everyone. If anyone has been hurt or offended, I apologize to them.”

For her part, McLeod-Skinner has taken aim at Bynum, 49, for being the sole legislator to oppose a bill extending the statute of limitations for the survivors of sexual assault to file civil suits. Bynum clarified that she only initially cast a no vote to raise a concern about the bill but later voted yes.

“It’s a desperate attempt to re-energize what many people are calling a failing campaign again,” she said of McLeod-Skinner’s statements.

Their goals are similar, seeking to address climate change, curb gun violence, improve housing affordability, lower health care costs and protect abortion rights. But a closer examination shows they are bringing different strategies and history that could be critical to claim the district.

Democrats bet big on Bynum

Bynum is trying to send a message that she’s a winner.

In public appearances and social media posts, she has repeatedly stated that she has twice defeated Chavez-DeRemer. Each of these victories came in an Oregon House district that encompasses the suburban Portland area of Happy Valley, an area much smaller than the congressional district she’s seeking now.

Bynum is an engineer who has four kids and owns four McDonald’s restaurants. As a lawmaker, she helped pass bipartisan bills aimed at holding police accountable and improving the local semiconductor industry. She says her legislative accomplishments separate her from McLeod-Skinner.

“I have a record of results and my opponent can’t say that,” she said.


If one were to look at her endorsements, they would see a wave of Democratic leadership and large national political organizations coalescing around her.

Among her endorsements: Oregon’s governor, attorney general, treasurer, the Oregon House majority leader and speaker, three Oregonian members of Congress, two former governors and more than 30 state lawmakers. Many are Democrats.

She has also been endorsed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ national campaign arm, and Emily’s List, a political action committee that operates out of Washington D.C.

And money is pouring in.

So far, Bynum has outraised McLeod-Skinner with more than $936,000 in total contributions compared to nearly $630,000, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission. On April 24, the 314 Action Fund, a national group that seeks to elect science leaders to public office, announced that it had spent $135,000 on advertisements to support Bynum.

Bynum’s candidacy comes more than two years after she sought the role of House speaker with what she described as backing from Gov. Tina Kotek, who was the outgoing speaker. She said Kotek didn’t fulfill an agreement to support her, which Kotek denied. Ultimately, Bynum failed to become speaker, but now Kotek is backing Bynum for Congress.

“I think people are endorsing her because they know her and know what she’s able to achieve,” state Rep. Travis Nelson, a Portland Democrat who has endorsed Bynum, told OPB.

If elected, Nelson believes that Bynum would be a crucial voice for Oregon as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. Oregon has never elected a Black member of Congress, he said, adding: “She could do a lot to bring money back to the district.”

Bynum says voices like hers are needed in Congress.

“The voices of women are desperately needed. Mothers are desperately needed,” she said. “Black women, in particular, those voices are needed so that we have a much richer and much more robust conversation about how to solve America’s problems.”

McLeod-Skinner seeks to bridge divide

One of McLeod-Skinner’s main goals, she says, is to bridge the political divide between urban and rural Oregon.

“Our country’s been caught up in this political divisiveness for several years now,” she told OPB. “And I think a lot of people are hungry to move beyond it and just to get stuff done.”

McLeod-Skinner lives with her wife in Deschutes County. She worked as an engineer and environmental analyst before serving on a variety of boards and local governments.

In 2018, she was the Democratic nominee for the 2nd Congressional District but lost to Rep. Greg Walden. She ran for secretary of state in 2020, losing a tight three-person primary won by Shemia Fagan. She unseated incumbent Rep. Kurt Schrader in the Democratic primary in 2022 before losing to Chavez-DeRemer.

Again and again, she’s touted her work in rural communities, saying the experience equips her to work with people with different backgrounds across this sprawling district. McLeod-Skinner believes she is better suited than Bynum to win the support of voters in areas like Central Oregon.

“You gotta be able to win in purple areas outside the Portland metro area,” she said.

So far, McLeod-Skinner has endorsements from three members of Congress — none from Oregon — three state lawmakers, union groups like the United Food & Commercial Workers and other political groups like the Equality PAC, a group that works to elect members of the LGBTQ community to Congress.

In addition, she has endorsements from dozens of current and former local officials, including city councilors, school board members, attorneys and local political leaders.

“That’s who voters know,” she said. “That’s who voters trust.”

Oregon state Rep. Mark Gamba, D-Milwaukie, who has endorsed McLeod-Skinner, said: “She’s connected with people in all walks of life and all parts of the state and really does represent the things that they care about.”

Gamba says this grassroots support will be critical to garner support from people who may be skeptical of those who power the current political establishment. In her appearances, McLeod-Skinner has repeatedly sought to appeal to voters by noting she doesn’t take money from corporate political action committees.

“I think a lot of Americans are finally waking up to the fact that if there are a ton of ads about somebody, you should be suspicious of them,” Gamba said.

Despite her two losses in congressional races, McLeod-Skinner notes that, in 2022, she narrowly lost in a year in which Republicans turned out at higher rates. In a presidential election, when Democratic voters increase, she believes the outcome will be different.