Not the US Senate election for Jeff Merkley, but the state senate. Roughly half of the 30 member state senate is up for election in 2014, and this group of districts was last up in 2010, prior to redistricting. Below I'll briefly discuss each of the districts where right now it looks like there may be an interesting race this year, with some 2012 election results and the result of the senate race in 2010, and I listed each of the other districts that will also be up but where there is no reason to think there will be a serious contest yet, and the percentage of the vote that Barack Obama received in those districts, which generally explains why they probably won't. Finally I will conclude with a little overall analysis.
Among the 2012 data that I include is the "Democratic average", which is the average of the results for the elections for Treasurer, Attorney General, and Secretary of State only including the Democratic and Republican candidates, and should be compared with the statewide average, which was 58.1% Democratic.
I might have information about the latest fundraising estimate for campaigns, or if there have been any more candidate filings recently, but ORESTAR is down. For reference here are maps of the districts.
Races to Watch
District 3: Incumbent Alan Bates (D) v. Dave Dotterer (R)
Obama percentage in 2012: 55.2%
Democratic average in 2012: 56.3%
State House vote in 2012: 43.3% Democratic (the Republican seat was uncontested)
Victory in 2010: 50.3-49.7%
Senator Bates is facing a challenge in this Southern Jackson County district (including Ashland and Medford) from the same man who he faced in 2010. As a rule I think an incumbent Democrat who survived 2010 is likely to survive in a more neutral environment, and I think that’s no different here. Bates was caught napping and won’t be so soon again, and the environment does not seem like it will be as bad for Democrats as 2010 was. Given that and the strong margin he’ll pull out of Ashland, he is favored as long as he mounts a competent campaign. Leans Democratic for now.
District 8: Incumbent Betsy Close (R) v. State Rep. Sara Gelser (D)
Obama in 2012: 59.2%
Democratic average in 2012: 60.3%
State House vote in 2012: 52.8% Democratic
Victory in 2010: 55.1-44.9%
Senator Close was appointed to this district in 2012 when moderate Republican Frank Morse retired in the middle of his term. Morse had been popular and easily won in the district in 2006 and 2010, but the more conservative Close, who just lost a race for county commission in Benton County, will have more trouble in this Corvallis and Albany based district. Gelser represents the Corvallis house district and has the support of the Mayor of Albany, Sharon Konopa, and can afford to perform quite well below the Democratic average and still win in this district, which going by the numbers looks more Democratic than the state as a whole. Even in 2010 I think this district would have had a good chance of going Democratic had it been open. Leans Democratic for now.
District 11: Incumbent Peter Courtney (D) v. County Commissioner Patti Milne (R)
Obama in 2012: 58% Obama
Democratic average in 2012: 61.7%
State House vote in 2012: 58.2% Democratic
Victory in 2010: 54.8-45.2%
Courtney is the Senate President and has been in the legislature more or less since the 1980s. He represents one of the most heavily Hispanic districts in the state which stretches from downtown Salem up the valley to Woodburn. It also has among the lowest turnout of any state senate district, sometimes lower than state house districts. One might think that could pose a big problem for Courtney, but he has survived thus far, including a nearly 10 point win in 2010, a Republican wave. Even in the more conservative house district here Republicans have been trying for years to defeat our incumbent and keep falling short. Courtney has attracted a prominent challenger, Marion County Commissioner Patti Milne, who had also previously served in the state house, but he has gobs of money, and if he won comfortably in 2010 and his district otherwise seems strong enough (about D+6, generally beyond the realm of competitiveness here), I will need to see more evidence that this is really competitive. Likely Democratic for now.
District 15: Incumbent Bruce Starr (R) v. ?
Obama in 2012: 57.7% Obama
Democratic average in 2012: 58.8%
State House vote in 2012: 53.1% Democratic
Victory in 2010: 52.3-47.7%
There is only one reason that Hillsboro Senator Bruce Starr does not seem vulnerable at this point: he has no opponent. The district is more Democratic than the state as a whole in both the presidential and average numbers. Democrats won back both state house districts in 2012 after losing them both in 2010 when they were both vacant. Starr won by less than 5 points in 2010 when most incumbent Republicans were romping (consider Frank Morse in SD-08 won by more than 10 points in a more Democratic district). In 2012 Starr ran for BOLI Commissioner (and lost) and only won his senate district by less than 7 points. There are so many signs of weakness, signs that this district is continuing to trend Democratic, but we just don’t have a candidate yet. Race to Watch until we get one.
District 16: Incumbent Betsy Johnson (D) v. ?
Obama in 2012: 54.2% Obama
Democratic average in 2012: 57.2%
State House vote in 2012: 73.5% Democratic (one of the seats was uncontested)
Victory in 2010: 54.5-45.5%
Johnson has taken a prominent stand against gun control measures in the last year which may be popular in much of her district, much of which is rural, and which covers the northwest corner of the state. The district is trending Republican largely because of the presence of Columbia County, which seems trending pretty quickly, while the rest seems pretty static. So far it still leans Democratic, and is even more so below the presidential level. While her position on guns earned her the ire of some progressives and a call for a primary challenge, none has materialized, and I have not heard of a Republican challenger yet either. Republicans have little bench here, and when Johnson easily held on in 2010 there’s little reason to see her as likely to be in danger of losing at this point. We should keep an eye out and see who files to challenge her, but just a Race to Watch for now.
District 26: Incumbent Chuck Thomsen (R) v. Robert Bruce (D)
Obama in 2012: 53.49% Obama
Democratic average in 2012: 55.6%
State House vote in 2012: 50.4% Democratic
Victory in 2010: 53-47%
This district, from Hood River to Boring and outer Southeast Portland, is the third most Democratic held by a Republican in the senate, but it is a bit less Democratic than the other two mentioned above. Democrat Shemia Fagan captured one of the state house districts here last year, and we made a strong showing in the other despite an underfunded campaign. Democrats had held both state house districts from 2009-2011, and Democrat Rick Metsger had held the senate district until 2011, but when he retired in 2010 we lost both it and the house seats. The district was made a bit more Democratic in redistricting, though. Thomsen, formerly a Hood River County Commissioner, has proven to be among the more moderate Republicans in the senate, especially on immigration issues. This may be enough to get him re-elected in this marginal district, and I expect it will be. I look forward to seeing how Democrat Robert Bruce, a small business consultant, campaigns. Leans Republican for now.
District 4: Floyd Prozanski (D)
Obama in 2012: 57.8%
District 6: Lee Beyer (D)
Obama in 2012: 57.7%
District 7: Chris Edwards (D)
Obama in 2012: 62.5%
District 10: Jackie Winters (R)
Obama in 2012: 49.5%
District 13: State Rep. Kim Thatcher (R)
Obama in 2012: 47.5% Obama
District 17: Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D)
Obama in 2012: 66.7%
District 19: Richard Devlin (D)
Obama in 2012: 61%
District 20: Alan Olsen (R)
Obama in 2012: 48.8%
District 22: Chip Shields (D)
Obama in 2012: 89.8%
District 24: Rod Monroe (D)
Obama in 2012: 65.3%
Democrats currently have a 16-14 majority in the senate, so one Democratic loss would mean a loss of the majority, and two losses would mean a Republican majority. However, there are only two districts held by Democrats that look potentially vulnerable on paper, and then Courtney's where he should be fine but drew a notable challenger. Republicans, meanwhile, have two districts that are more Democratic than the state as a whole. SD-08 has an appointed incumbent facing a sitting Democratic state representative, where we should be favored to win, and SD-15 has an incumbent who while winning has performed rather weakly in a district that continued to trend Democratic in 2012. They also have SD-26, which leans slightly Democratic and has been home to majorly contested races in 2008, 2010, and 2012, but where the incumbent has made efforts to appear more moderate than the rest of his party. Overall I think this looks like a Democratic gain of one or two seats. Democrats could end up losing seats, of course, or could break even, but it is hard for me to see us losing the SD-08 race, and losing districts that we held on to in 2010.
Of the other districts, a strong Republican challenger could make SDs 4 or 6 the Eugene-Springfield area look interesting, but those seats are Democratic enough that they should be fine. On the other hand a significant Democratic challenger in SD-20 could give Alan Olsen a real race in the district once held by the Schraders, but none has appeared yet and Olsen would still be favored, since the district became 4-5 points more Republican in redistricting. In SD-10 Democratic chances fizzled when Jackie Winters filed to run for re-election.
SD-13 is mainly only notable because it is the only district without an incumbent running, though SDs 8 and 17 have appointed incumbents. Although it appears to be slowly trending Democratic it is not enough that it should be competitive. Obama lost the district by 5 points, and Democrats do not hold a single legislative district in the state that Obama lost, while Republicans hold three senate seats that Romney lost and I think five state house seats that Romney lost. In the Secretary of State race Kate Brown won 4 Republican-held senate districts and 2 Republican-held house districts, but lost no Democratic-held districts, which were all districts that Obama won, except SD-10 where Obama got 49.5% of the vote. Democrats here have had a really hard time winning legislative districts that lean Republican up the ballot. Meanwhile, Republicans can compete in districts that weakly lean toward Democrats in races up the ballot.