As we publish this, some polls show a Democratic candidate ahead by 12 points in an Alabama Senate race. Yes, that Alabama.
Sure, it’s hard to imagine a worse Republican candidate — Roy Moore is a well-documented sexual predator who was banned from his local mall as an adult because of persistent sexual advances on local teens. But it’s also hard to imagine a Democrat representing Alabama. It’s almost as difficult as picturing someone from the Democratic Party representing Eastern Oregon.
Our region is solid Republican territory. Even if Democratic candidates are making major inroads in red areas nationwide due to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump, it’s still a long shot to imagine anyone solely representing Eastern Oregon without an R beside their name. It hasn’t happened in decades.
In the U.S. Senate, we are outvoted by our western counterparts, who vote as reliably Democratic as we vote reliably Republican. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley won despite being outvoted in each Eastern Oregon county.
But the tables are turned in the U.S. House, where District 2 sheds those overwhelming blue votes in the Willamette Valley. Republican Greg Walden has skated through each election since 1999 and only two Democrats have ever held the seat in its 200-plus year history. The last was Al Ulhman of Baker City, who represented the district from 1957 until 1981.
To our statehouse, we send an all-red ticket of Greg Barreto, Bill Hansell and Greg Smith from our readership area.
Will it be that way forever? Just how high, and how powerful, will the anti-Trump wave be in 2018 and 2020?
To look for a possible high water mark in Eastern Oregon, we will keep an eye on the upcoming U.S. House race. Greg Walden (R-Hood River), has held the seat for 18 years and is running for a tenth term.
A cadre of Democratic challengers have lined up to oppose him, though right now none have the name recognition or financial backing to put up much of a fight. Remember District 2 went for Donald Trump by 21 points in 2016, and Walden defeated Jim Crary with 71 percent of the vote in 2016. Crary is looking for a rematch — he’s one of the challengers hoping to secure the Democratic nomination.
Each of those challengers who have made their way through Umatilla County have talked to us about a palpable energy at their events that they didn’t feel in previous campaigns.
The media was clearly wrong leading up to the 2016 election, and they may very well be wrong to consider an anti-Trump turn in the electorate. Consider us unconvinced right now that Democrats will take back the U.S. Senate and the House, and even more skeptical that they stand a chance in District 2.
But there is no way to look past this month’s results, where red and purple districts swung heavily blue in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington State and elsewhere.
It’s worth watching. In 2016, the Democratic Party hit the depths of its long-term deep unpopularity in rural America — a fact that put Donald Trump into the White House despite losing the popular vote.
But if President Trump continues to be ineffective, there is the possibility that voters who oppose him will come out in full force in the next few elections while those who voted Trump in 2016 become jaded and stay home. If that’s the case, anything is possible — even in Eastern Oregon.