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With Primary Behind Them, 5th District Contenders Prepare For November


Big wheels are turning in Oregon's 5th Congressional District. A bruising primary has winnowed the competition down to Democrat Kurt Schrader, and officially to Republican Mike Erickson, but the race has taken turns no one expected.

April Baer reports that now, the national parties are making their influence known in the race.


Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen braved Oregon's drizzly rain yesterday to salute a bright spot in the Democrats forecast.   As head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Van Hollen's job this year is getting Democrats elected — like State Senator Kurt Schrader in Oregon's 5th District.

Chris Van Hollen: "At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, when we look at the prospects for various candidates, what we look to see if whether a candidate really fits the district. is it somebody who fits the sort of political temperment of the district?  Clearly in Kurt Schrader, you've got somebody who is interested in getting things done."

Van Hollen talked about Schrader's record.  And he promised that if Schrader needs money and support, the national group has his back.

Schrader won the Democratic primary last week, and with it, the right to take on Republican Mike Erickson, a self-made millionaire who's financed his own way.  Schrader says he's assuming Erickson may have more cash to spend.

Kurt Schrader: "Oh, I would almost bet the ranch on that. Although I think we're going to be prepared for whatever opponent.   It'll take a lot of money . Fortunately or unfortunately in this day and age that is a big part of any campaign."

The Democrats' event yesterday had an aggressive subtext.   While no dollar amounts were mentioned, Van Hollen's presence spoke volumes about what resources Schrader may draw on.

The Democratic party's campaign committee is in a good position to help out, having about $45 million cash on hand.

Compare that with less than $7 million in the bank at the National Republican Campaign Committee —  money Mike Erickson may have to compete for, if he needs it.

Jack Kane: "He's going to have to spend, it seems to me, $3 million plus."

Jack Kane is a political strategist who worked for Erickson's primary opponent, Kevin Mannix. He notes the question of money had been muddled by the messy ethical issues. 

A now-notorious mailer, sent by Mannix, claimed that the staunchly conservative Erickson paid for a girlfriend's abortion some years back.   Erickson insists he thought the woman was having a different medical procedure, and that the story is a smear campaign.

Despite Erickson's victory over Mannix, Jack Kane says he's not sure the issue has been put to rest.  He doesn't like Mike Erickson's chances this fall.

Jack Kane: "My sense is that Schrader and his party  will run a strong, well-funded campaign in what appears to be a very strong Democratic year, and it's going to be tough for him to overcome that."

Kane says he's curious to see what, if anything, other Republicans will do on Erickson's behalf.

Sen. Gordon Smith has been non-committal when asked if he's been watching the 5th.

Gordon Smith: "A little. I've got my own race to run. and I'm going to run my campaign."

April Baer:  "So…?"

Gordon Smith:  "We'll see how it develops."

The Oregon Republican Party congratulated Mike Erickson with a written statement after the primary, but hasn't said much since. Which leaves the National Republican Campaign Committee.

Ken Spain: "We trust local Republicans in Oregon to nominate who they believe is the best nominee."

Ken Spain with the NRCC notes Oregon's 5th is one of several competitive races the party may help out this year.    The NRCC hasn't sent anyone to stump with Erickson. But Spain says the committee is keeping a close eye on the race.

Ken Spain: "Another thing I think voters should pay attention to is the timeline. This primary has occurred relatively early. So Mr Erickson's going to have plenty of time to consolidate Republican support, and to go after Independents and Democrats, which he will need to win the election in November."

Erickson might also use the time to mend fences.  During the primary his campaign veered away from the state party's traditional establishment.  Erickson says that independence is part of his strength as a congressional candidate.

Mike Erickson: "I just think we need independent-minded people turning this country around."

Erickson's sticking with the same optimistic message as in the final mud-flecked weeks of the primary.  He says he's not worried that the NRCC hasn't made an overt pledge of support.

He recently travelled east to talk to Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt and others for financial support. Here's what he said when asked about the silence of state party leaders regarding his campaign.

Mike Erickson: "Oh no, like I told you, Greg Walden actually and Roy Blunt did a fundraiser at my home  three and a half months ago. So I'm sure you'll see a lot of support for me as the campaign gets going."

Actually, there may be more than one interpretation of that story.   A source with Congressman Greg Walden's office told OPB that Walden did not in fact do a fundraiser for Erickson, but merely tagged along with Congressman Blunt to a small event at Erickson's house. The source says Walden has no plans to attend Erickson fundraisers in the future.

Let's rewind … back to something Erickson's opponent Kurt Schrader said yesterday.

Kurt Schrader: "…Although I think we're going to be prepared for whatever opponent…."

Some have quietly questioned whether Erickson will stay in the race till November. There's no overt reason for him to give up. But if national power brokers decide his presence is not helping other Republicans on the ticket, he may face pressure behind the scenes to quit.

Sources close to the party doubt Erickson would willingly back off.  He's frequently described as having planned this campaign from the day after his last unsuccessful run in 2006.

With a net worth estimated in the millions, he may just have the resources to go it alone, if he has to.

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