Oregon Democrats have held a trifecta in state government since 2007, with only a brief two-year exception from 2011 to 2012. But with an unpopular outgoing Democratic Governor and the best political environment in at least eight years, Oregon Republicans have a real opportunity at seizing state government, starting with the gubernatorial race, which we at Elections Daily currently rate as Leans Democratic. Further down the ballot, Republicans retain a viable pathway to a majority in both chambers of the legislature, especially given the GOP-leaning environment. This article will focus on the State Senate. A copy of the Oregon State Senate map used in this election can be viewed here.
With the primaries settled, a small battlefield has emerged for control of the upper chamber. Only five seats are not rated as “Safe” for either party, with the GOP holding 10 of those seats and the Democrats holding 14. Independent Party Senator Brian Boquist from the 12th district is not up for reelection this year and is widely expected to caucus with the GOP in case of a tied chamber, effectively giving the GOP 11 safe seats to start this election cycle.
If Republicans win four out of the five competitive seats, the chamber will be tied and a divided power contract would have to be agreed upon by the two parties, as Oregon does not have a Lieutenant Governor. The path to a tie or a GOP majority in the chamber exists and is realistic, but it would require them to win at least two seats we currently see slightly favoring Democrats. Therefore, the initial rating for this chamber as a whole is Leans Democratic.
The Competitive Seats
The 16th district is by far the easiest pickup opportunity for Oregon Republicans. A Trump+2 seat vacated by moderate Democratic State Senator Besty Johnson, who herself is running an independent campaign for Governor, this is a difficult hold for Democrats. Their candidate here is Melissa Busch, a nurse from Warren, who does not seem to be nearly strong enough to counter simple fundamentals in a red-leaning year. The GOP has a strong nominee of their own, state representative Suzanne Weber, who should win this race barring something truly unexpected. We’re rating this race as a Likely Republican pickup.
On the other side of the aisle, Oregon Democrats have a strong pickup opportunity of their own in the 20th district. Appointed Republican Senator Bill Kennemer faces a tough election to a first full term in this Biden+14 seat. Downballot Republican tendencies in the Portland suburbs along with the national environment mean the incumbent is competitive, but winning a district that even voted for unpopular Democratic Governor Kate Brown in 2018 is going to be a difficult task for any Republican. State Representative Mark Meek, Kennemer’s opponent, is a credible challenger. This is a Leans Democratic contest to start.
In the 3rd Senatorial District, 1st-term Democratic State Senator Jeff Golden faces a competitive reelection contest against Republican Medford Mayor Randy Sparacino. Making up 60% of the district’s population, the city of Medford is an asset for Sparacino’s campaign, but the district as a whole voted for Biden by 15 points. In order to win, Sparacino would need to win Medford by around 20 points and cut significantly into Golden’s margins in heavily democratic Ashland and surrounding areas. Not impossible, but 15 points is a large deficit for the challenger to overcome, and thus this race warrants a Leans Democratic rating.
The 10th district, which takes in most of Salem on one end and the cities of Monmouth and Independence on the other, is held by Democratic State Senator Deb Patterson. Elected by only a point in 2020, Patterson would’ve been in real trouble if district lines stayed similar. However, redistricting altered the 10th from a Biden+7 seat to a Biden+16 seat, giving the incumbent nine extra points of padding and an advantage to start the general election. State Representative Raquel Moore-Green is the Republican nominee in the district, and she is running a credible campaign. Leans Democratic is an appropriate rating.
13th district Senator Kim Thatcher is running in the 11th district this year after redistricting. She has been a serious overperformer in her previous races but has recently embraced many far-right positions, including casting doubt on the results of the 2020 election. In addition, Thatcher only currently represents about 1/3 of the new seat, heavily reducing her incumbency advantage. As a result, Democrats now sense a pickup opportunity in this reconfigured Biden +9 district. With a Democratic credible nominee in Woodburn Mayor Eric Swenson, this race starts as a Tossup.