A progressive House candidate is tying himself as closely to Bernie Sanders as possible in the hopes that it will help him pull off a major upset against a relatively conservative Democratic incumbent in Oregon next Tuesday, foreshadowing a way in which the independent Vermont senator's political revolution may continue after the presidential primary has concluded.
Dave McTeague served as a state representative in Oregon’s legislature before working as the executive director of the state’s chiropractic examiners board. He’s challenging Rep. Kurt Schrader, who is serving his fourth term as the representative for Oregon’s 5th district. Schrader is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition for conservative Democrats and has one of the most conservative voting records for a Democrat in the House. As a superdelegate, Schrader is backing Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton at the party’s convention this summer.
McTeague has said he entered the race for Schrader’s seat because he was inspired by Sanders, who has engaged millions of supporters across the country. Schrader voted last summer to give President Barack Obama Trade Promotion Authority, otherwise known as fast-track approval, to negotiate international trade deals, and it's one the main issues McTeague is now running on. Schrader called AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka a “bully” because of the labor organization’s threat that it would withhold campaign donations to Democrats over the fast-track legislation.
“These days a lot of voters, Democratic voters too, don’t feel represented by the Washington Establishment and want real change,” McTeague said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “This is evident in the success of Sen. Sander’s insurgent presidential campaign, which I strongly support … I don’t have any illusions about this effort. Running against an entrenched incumbent is like taking on the Death Star in Star Wars especially one with access to a million or more dollars of PAC money.”
McTeague has some well-organized help behind him. The Working Families Party (WFP), a political group that campaigns for progressive candidates and policies, has sent two different Sanders-themed mailers to roughly 20,000 households in the district in support of McTeague. (The WFP, which has chapters in a dozen states, endorsed Sanders in December, which was its first national endorsement.)
"Progressive voters in Oregon are lucky to have a choice on the ballot who will bring the fight for Bernie's political revolution to Congress,” said Dan Cantor, the WFP’s national director. “It takes courage to stand up against a well-funded and powerful incumbent, and Dave McTeague is someone who has always shown that kind of courage. From his time as a state legislator standing up to insurance companies and polluters to his opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership to his bold endorsement of Bernie Sanders, McTeague has distinguished himself as a true champion for our values.”
The WFP has also put up digital advertisements aimed at Sanders supporters and is hosting phone banks for the candidate.
While McTeague may have only the slightest chance of defeating Schrader -- he got into the race only a week before the filing deadline and has raised only a fraction of what Schrader has raised -- the contest between the two Democrats is an illustration of the sorts of races that may happen more frequently. Law professor Tim Canova’s race is another example; he has has garnered media attention in his bid to unseat Democratic National Committee Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in Florida.
The Florida race has drawn attention in part because Wasserman Schultz is of the country's highest-profile Democrats. But Sanders’ record-breaking fundraising and strong challenge to Clinton may embolden more progressives to run against incumbents in future election cycles, with the recognition that progressive Democrats need to focus more on down-ballot races. Unlike Republicans, Democrats rarely challenge sitting Democrats. A congressional primary candidate hasn’t defeated an incumbent in Oregon in 36 years.
The WFP hopes that Sanders’ likely primary win in Oregon against Clinton on May 17 will boost McTeague. But even if he loses, the group wants Democratic incumbents like Schrader to think twice about voting for bills like fast-track, which progressive groups and labor unions abhor.