Oregon Congressional Race Becomes Crowded with Republicans, Here’s Why

Greg Walden has represented Oregon’s Second District for 22 years. Even in a year as strange as 2020, it’s thought to be a near-certainty that its next Representative will also be a Republican, so the Republican primary on 19 May is considered the “real” election. So, eleven candidates are competing for the Republican slot on the November ballot. 

Four of them, Jason Atkinson, Cliff Bentz, Knute Buehler and Jimmy Crumpacker have raised over $2 million each. They’re followed by David Campbell, Glenn Carey, Travis Fager, Justin Livingston, Kenneth Medenbach, Mark Roberts and Jeff Smith.  

Variety of candidates: The Republican candidates are quite an assorted group, including former state Senators and state Representatives, persons who have held no public office at all (including one who describes himself as a “career commoner”), lifelong residents of eastern Oregon and one who has lived in the Second district only a single year, having moved there only weeks after Walden announced his retirement.   

Former state Representative Knute Buehler is an Oregon State University alumnus, with a Master’s degree in microbiology. He was the Republican candidate for governor in 2018.  

Thee candidates advocate for policies ranging from zero-interest student loans to a ban on abortion with very few exceptions. Candidates in the 19 May Democratic primary are Nick Heuertz, John Holm, Jack Howard, Alex Spenser and Chris Vaughn.  

An outlier congressional district: Oregon’s Second Congressional District is immense in size because it is so sparsely populated. It extends from Hood River to the Idaho-Nevada border, from Grant’s Pass to Wallowa, making up 70,000 square miles (120,000 square kilometers), or 73% of the state’s land surface. Since the number of seats in the House has been frozen at 435 since 1913 by an act of Congress, Oregon only gets five seats. If other states grow larger in the 2020 Census, Oregon may lose a seat, and four even larger districts will have to be drawn. The opposite could also happen, if Oregon grows faster than other states.   

In a normal year, candidates would be driving all over the district, and walking up and down the streets of Bend and Baker City. The coronavirus pandemic has prevented almost all normal campaign activity, though. Most observers expect this to give an advantage to candidates with familiar names and money to spend on advertising, but others point out that since candidates are unable to travel around a district larger than North Dakota, they will be able to attend remote events via Zoom and similar technologies. This is just one more way in which the outcome of the election will be unpredictable.  

John M. Burt