Reuters; Abigail Dollins/Statesman Journal/USA Today Network/Reuters
On a recent rainy Saturday, about two dozen Democratic volunteers crowded into a small office in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.
Democratic candidate Andrea Salinas addressed canvassers from her office in Tualatin, Oregon, amid an increasingly tight race in the state’s new 6th congressional district.
“Thank you so much everyone. I consider this season of soggy socks here in Oregon when we’re all out there canvassing and making sure we’re talking to voters,” Salinas said.
The state of Oregon has long been a safe blue haven for Democrats. But this year, Republicans are threatening to upend races across the state.
Recently, Cook’s political report moved Oregon’s newest congressional district from skinny Democrat to a draw as the GOP nominee gains momentum.
The district, which was the center of one of the most expensive races in the country earlier this year, stretches southwest from Portland across vast wine country and past the state capital, Salem.
The district’s mix of urban and rural areas creates a tight political race this year, said Chris Stout, a politics professor at Oregon State University.
“In a year like 2022, where Republicans have an advantage and people are concerned about crime … inflation, that makes it a much more competitive race,” Stout said.
Ultimately, the contest in this district could help tell a larger national story about the Republican Party’s real reach in this election cycle.
Largest share of Latino voters in Oregon
Oregon’s new congressional district is also home to the largest concentration of Latino residents in the state, with 21% identifying as Hispanic.
Yolanda Welch, who came to solicit Salinas, said she relates to Salinas’ Mexican roots.
“She grew up like me,” said Welch, who moved to the Oregon area in 1974, in her native Spanish.
Welch said Salinas, a longtime former state legislator, can respond to rising inflation.
Welch, a working guard, said she was put off by the GOP.
“I’m not like the Republicans. They have so much money. I don’t,” Welch said with a laugh.
“Oregonians are in trouble”
District GOP candidate Mike Erickson is a wealthy supply chain executive who self-funded much of his campaign.
So far, the two parties have raised over $2 million. Erickson has gained traction with rural voters while Salinas enjoys support in urban and suburban areas
And recently, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee tied to House GOP leaders, dumped an additional $800,000 in ads into the district.
In a statement emailed to NPR, Erickson said Oregonians are fed up with higher costs and a long-running homelessness crisis that hasn’t improved under Democrat watch.
“Oregonians are struggling with inflation and gas prices out of control due to reckless spending by Democrats. Oregonians are tired of seeing our state fall behind in education, disrespect and underfund the law enforcement, and allow camping on public property,” Erickson said. “The Democrats have had decades to work through and fix the problem, and it’s only getting worse.”
Erickson also said he believes he is well-positioned to represent the district’s Latino population because of his business background and ability to fight inflation.
He is a Republican perennial candidate and has lost several previous elections. In previous runs, Erickson was injured after being linked to an ex-girlfriend’s abortion and recently said he was unaware the woman had requested the service.
He was also arrested in 2016 for driving under the influence. He is now suing Salinas for publicity related to the DUI arrest.
Erickson declined to elaborate on NPR’s claims, but told The Oregonian the DUI arrest was a mistake against the law.
“I was never perfect,” he said.
A costly electoral battle
Erickson and his supporters say that despite past setbacks, this year is his chance to make it to the U.S. Capitol.
At a cafe in the town of McMinnville, Republican Chris Chenoweth says that despite these setbacks, timing is finally on Erickson’s side
“I think Mike is going to win,” Chenoweth said.
Chenoweth, who serves on the city council of McMinnville, located in a rural pocket of Oregon’s 6th congressional district, said national issues are energizing Republicans in the district.
“You’re starting to look at your bread-and-butter kitchen table issues. It’s a headwind against Democrats for this election cycle,” Chenoweth said.
Salinas, who won a bitter Democratic primary this year, remains optimistic as she talks more about the economy and other major concerns.
“I don’t have to be the…flag bearer for the Democratic Party,” Salinas said. “I want to be the standard bearer for the people of the 6th congressional district. Okay. And really serve their needs, because I know people are hurting right now. And that’s what motivates me to do the job. .”