Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a former suburban mayor, was projected to flip a Democratic-held House seat in Oregon, depriving the reigning party of a key foothold on a U.S. House map where Democrats have little room for error and disappointing progressives who had rallied behind her competitor.
Chavez-DeRemer was expected to defeat Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, an attorney, small-business owner and regional emergency response coordinator in Oregon’s new 5th Congressional District. The seat, which Joe Biden carried by more than 8 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, includes a sliver of the city of Portland, many of its suburbs, the city of Bend and large swathes of rural, central Oregon.
In an interview in October, Chavez-DeRemer, who previously served as mayor of Happy Valley, said she hoped to focus in Congress on combating inflation, shoring up local law enforcement and providing more alternatives to conventional public schools.
“I take it right back to being a mayor, a mom and a business owner,” said Chavez-DeRemer, who runs medical clinics with her husband, an anesthesiologist. “I think that those three things are what people in Oregon’s 5th are looking forward to and have hope for.”
With support from left-wing groups like the Working Families Party, McLeod-Skinner had unseated Rep. Kurt Schrader, a business-friendly centrist, in a May primary.
Her projected loss to Chavez-DeRemer dashes the hopes of progressives who wanted the chance to prove their mettle in a swing seat. It also provides ammunition to party moderates who maintain that Schrader would have been a stronger contender, despite his close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
“McLeod-Skinner is significantly to the left of where this district is right now,” said Jeff Eager, a former Republican mayor of Bend, who noted McLeod-Skinner’s participation in an event for Oregon Democrats hosted by progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “If Schrader had won the nomination, it would be a different deal.”
Chavez-DeRemer did pick up support from some Democrats and Democrat-aligned groups like a local Iron Workers union that would otherwise have backed Schrader.
But it’s unclear how well Schrader would have competed in a district redrawn to include vast new swathes of central Oregon.
Rather than blame McLeod-Skinner for being too progressive, progressive groups blame House Majority PAC, House Democrats’ main super PAC, for declining to invest in the race.
“This seat could have made the majority, but the national Democratic PACs walked away and left Jamie to twist in the wind,” Joe Dinkin, national campaigns director for the Working Families Party, said in a statement. “The GOP knew it was competitive and their spending showed it.”
The WFP ran a super PAC in support of McLeod-Skinner that spent about $600,000 on her behalf.
“Jamie was an excellent candidate, and Democratic leaders should be asking themselves why they couldn’t see what Democrats in the district so clearly could,” he added.
House Majority PAC defended its decision not to spend on McLeod-Skinner’s behalf.
“Given what was believed by many to be a very challenging political environment and the fact that Republican groups raised over $350 million — House Majority PAC had to make strategic resource allocation decisions, with many of our investments making a significant impact in races across the country,” C.J. Warnke, communications director for House Majority PAC, said in a statement. “Our investments clearly made a difference in Oregon, where we spent nearly $4 million for Congresswoman-elect Val Hoyle in OR-04 and State Rep. Andrea Salinas in OR-06 — who both faced an unprecedented amount of Republican spending this year.”
Regardless of whether McLeod-Skinner’s progressive ties made the difference in her race, Chavez-DeRemer and her allies tried to tie McLeod-Skinner to the least-popular parts of the radical left in the city of Portland. For participating in a Black Lives Matter march, serving as a city council member in a left-leaning Bay Area city and accepting the support of the left-wing Working Families Party, which has embraced calls to “defund the police,” Republicans have branded McLeod-Skinner an anti-police radical. McLeod-Skinner, who has never supported reducing police funding, enlisted the support of a former Bend police chief to vouch for her pro-law-enforcement credentials.
When HuffPost spoke with McLeod-Skinner in October, she was moving aggressively to broaden her appeal to voters in the district who might be wary of her progressive associations. She declined to identify as a “progressive” and was cagey about the prospect of campaigning jointly with Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tina Kotek.
“What you’ve actually got in this case is a rural Democrat versus a suburban Republican … a rural Democrat who lives in a double-wide [trailer] versus a multimillionaire Republican who lives in a gated community in the suburbs,” said McLeod-Skinner, making the case that she was the kind of populist Democrat with crossover appeal.
“We just have two fundamentally different visions for our district, our state and our country,” she added. “And when people get a sense of those visions and what we’re both standing for, I win that battle hands down because people ultimately want to be hopeful about the future.”
In the end, though, voters in Oregon were seeking a change from Democratic Party rule. To that end, Chavez-DeRemer slammed McLeod-Skinner for supporting Biden’s domestic policy agenda.
“You cannot say that you’re for hardworking Americans and working families if you’re willing to support every single spending bill that Biden has brought down,” she told HuffPost.
At the same time, Chavez-DeRemer sought to inoculate herself from charges that she was too right-wing for the district.
She downplayed the more hardline stances she took during the GOP primary, including support for a state-level “heartbeat bill” banning abortion early in the pregnancy (she now emphasizes that she would not vote to restrict abortion at the federal level) and casting doubt on the validity of the 2020 presidential election results (she now says only that “President Biden is the president of the United States”).
Chavez-DeRemer was the first woman and first Latina mayor of Happy Valley. She is part of an increasingly diverse cohort of Republican congressional candidates.
Although Latinos are “a small sector of the entire state, it’s still one of the fastest growing populations that we’re seeing,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “Giving them a voice, letting them know that we support those family values and then recognizing that they can trust us if we can look like them, understand them … and we can be relatable, I think that that’s key.”