2020 Oregon Elections Results
Reasons for Optimism
In 2018, statistics from Oregon elections were discouraging. Democrats won supermajorities in the State Senate and House. Despite approximately 80% turnout in legislative races by both parties statewide, in no race won by a Democrat could 100% Republican turnout have won the election. That is the power of partisan gerrymandering. Against all odds, Republicans performed much better than the gerrymandering should have allowed. 2020 was a growth year, and it should make Republicans optimistic about the future - at least until the Democratic Party of Oregon gerrymanders themselves another supermajority this spring.
Unfortunately, Congressional election outcomes are not a source of optimism this year. Congressional District 2 voters remained reliably Republican, sending staunch conservative State Senator Cliff Bentz to Congress following the retirement of Representative Greg Walden.
Senate Republicans lost one seat (District 10, Denyc Boles), but gained another (District 5, Dick Anderson). The following races should give Republicans reason for optimism:
District 5: Republican-registered Lincoln City Mayor Dick Anderson brought positive name recognition to his race to replace retiring Democrat Arnie Roblan, and the Senate Caucus did their best to help him win. Despite a Democratic voter registration advantage of 3,300, Anderson won by 2,547 votes, with 2,791 Democrats not voting.
District 10: When Republican Senator Jackie Winters died in 2019, Republican Representative Denyc Boles was appointed to filled her seat until a special election in 2020 to complete the final two years of the term. Senator Boles ran against Democrat Deb Patterson, who had lost the election against Winters in 2018. Patterson won by 576 votes, the closest Senate election in 2020. 2,566 Republicans did not vote, and an increase in GOP turnout could have flipped this race in favor of Senator Boles.
SD25: Republican Justin Hwang challenged Democratic Senator Chris Gorsek and lost by 2,324 votes. 2,327 Republicans did not vote, and an increase in GOP turnout could have flipped this race in favor of Hwang.
SD27: Republican Senator Tim Knopp faced a changing dynamic in this race, with a growing Democratic bloc in Bend sending the only Democrat east of the Cascades to the House of Representatives. Democratic primary turnout was higher than GOP turnout, and Democrats have a voter registration advantage of 6,054. Senator Knopp's positive name recognition likely helped him retain his seat, winning by 1,586 votes as 2,572 Democrats did not vote in this election.
Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod faced an uphill battle protecting his Caucus in 2020, and he successfully led the retention of all seats. Higher Republican turnout in a couple of races could have helped the Caucus capture an additional 2 Districts. If these Districts are not too heavily modified by redistricting, Republicans may have a chance to take them in 2024. The one wild card is Senator Mike Boquist, who joined the Independent Party of Oregon after the election, diminishing the Republican Caucus to 11 Senators.
House of Representatives
The Republican Caucus increased by one member to 23 seats during the 2020 election cycle, with Republicans pulling upsets all across the State.
HD9: Republican educator Boomer Wright pulled an upset in the race against Democratic-registered State Parks & Rec. Commission Chair Cal Makumoto in a District with a Democratic voter registration and primary turnout advantage. 100% Democratic turnout would not have given Chair Makumoto victory.
HD19: The only race I rated as a true tossup, Democrats had higher primary turnout, but Republicans have more registered voters. Incumbent GOP Rep. Raquel Moore-Green received more than 3,400 votes than her competitor, and 100% Democratic turnout would not have flipped the race in favor of the Democratic challenger.
HD31: Incumbent Democratic Rep. Brad Witt beat GOP Challenger Brian Stout by only 511 votes, with 1,122 Republicans not voting. An increase in GOP turnout could have flipped this race in favor of Stout.
HD31: Republican-registered Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber overcame a Democratic voter registration and primary turnout advantage to beat Democratic-registered Sunset Empire Transportation Board Chair Debbie Boothe-Schmidt. 100% Democratic turnout would not have flipped this race in favor of Chair Boothe-Schmidt.
HD43: The most gerrymandered House District in Oregon, no Republican candidate filed to challenge incumbent Democratic Rep. Tawna Sanchez, whose party holds a voter registration advantage of 34,973 over the GOP.
HD52: Incumbent Democratic Rep. Anna Williams defeated former seat holder Jeff Helfrich for the second time, on this occasion by only 84 votes, with 1,192 Republicans not voting. An increase in GOP turnout could have flipped this race in favor of Rep. Helfrich.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan successfully grew the Caucus for the first time in a decade in 2020. Higher Republican turnout in a couple of races could have helped the Caucus capture an additional 2 Districts. If these Districts are not too heavily modified by redistricting, Republicans may have a chance to take them in 2022.
2016 ORP Victory Party, Salem.
The Real Lesson: STOP GERRYMANDERING
2,400 years ago, Thucydides wrote, "In a democracy, someone who fails to get elected to office can always console himself with the thought that there was something not quite fair about it." I have heard far too many Oregon Republicans pretend that nefarious County elections officials and vote by mail are the real reasons that Republicans do not win in Oregon.
The data from 2020 supports the same truth revealed in past elections: Oregon is not a blue state, it is just gerrymandered that way. Of the 37 house races Democrats won in 2020, only 2 could have been won by 100% Republican turnout, while only 2 additional Senate seats could have been won by 100% Republican turnout. Both best possible outcomes would still have left legislative Republicans in the minority. A few races this year were only won because of herculean efforts to reach out to nonaffiliated and Democratic voters in swing Districts.
Republican leaders in Oregon must immediately stop lying to their fellow conservatives about the reasons we lose elections. It is my sincere hope that the Oregon Republican Party will go in a more realistic and honest direction under the leadership of the new Executive Committee, including Chair Dallas Heard, Vice Chair Herman Baertschiger, Secretary Becky Mitts, and Treasurer Dennis Linthicum.
Either Legislative Democrats or Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will be in charge of drawing the next decade of legislative maps, and it is likely that Democrats will gift themselves another 10 years of majorities and supermajorities. In 2020, the Oregon Republican Party ignored a nonpartisan redistricting initiative to prevent the Legislative Assembly from choosing their own voters, instead fronting an unsuccessful second attempt to recall Governor Kate Brown, resulting in the failure of both initiatives. If the Oregon Republican Party and Legislative Caucuses are not completely unified in effort and intent going forward, the next round of gerrymandering will wipe out Beaver State conservatives for good. Oregonians are depending on us to run candidates who care about real issues and build on the progress we made in 2020, not console ourselves over losing by blaming vote by mail.