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U.S. Representative Kurt Schrader (D-OR) speaking at a press
Rep. Kurt Schrader at a press conference in Washington, D.C. on June 27, 2019.Michael Brochstein / LightRocket via Getty Images, file

Why a moderate House Dem lost a closely watched Oregon primary

The congressman labeled “the Joe Manchin of the House" tried to hang on in his Oregon district. It didn't work.


The number of congressional incumbents who’ve lost primary races this year is quite small, at least for now. In fact, two sitting U.S. House members — West Virginia’s David McKinley and Georgia’s Carolyn Bourdeaux — only lost because they faced off against colleagues in the wake of post-census redistricting.

Republican Rep. Madison Cawthorn, of course, also lost this month, narrowly coming up short in North Carolina, unable to overcome a series of scandals.

Today, the trio became a quartet. The Associated Press in Oregon reported:

Seven-term U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader has been ousted in a Democratic primary in Oregon by progressive challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner. The vote count in the state’s 5th Congressional District was significantly delayed due to ballots with blurry bar codes in Oregon’s third-largest being rejected by vote-counting machines.

Though there were some exceptions, the race took on a local-vs-national dynamic: McLeod-Skinner, an attorney and former interim city manager, enjoyed the backing of local Democratic parties, while the incumbent congressman was backed by President Joe Biden and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

For Schrader, it appears the latter wasn’t quite enough.

The problem for the outgoing congressman had nothing to do with sordid controversies or redistricting challenges. Schrader’s biggest problem was a voting record his Democratic constituents couldn’t overlook. The AP’s report added:

Schrader has voted against some of Biden’s priorities, including a money-saving plan to let Medicare negotiate the price it pays for prescription drugs. Schrader has faced mounting criticism from progressive Democrats. A year ago, he was one of only two members of his party to vote against a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill because, among several reasons, he did not support including an increase to the minimum wage.

Unfortunately for the congressman, the list doesn’t end there: Schrader also initially balked at impeaching Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 attack.

It wasn’t too surprising when McLeod-Skinner gained traction by describing the congressman as “the Joe Manchin of the House.”

Much of Schrader’s pitch came down to electability: Oregon may have a reputation as a “blue” state, but some of its congressional districts are quite competitive, including the 5th. The incumbent effectively told local Democrats that they may not be thrilled with his record, but nominating someone to his left made it more likely that Republicans would flip the seat.

In the end, that wasn’t enough — an outcome other moderate House Democrats will no doubt notice.

McLeod-Skinner will face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, the former mayor of Happy Valley, in the fall.