Democrats not only intend to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, they’re lining up to do it.
With 309 days remaining until primary elections are held in Oregon, Bend communications consultant Chris Van Dyke visited Pendleton Monday while he considers a run against the longtime incumbent.
The self-described “lifelong Democrat” met with the Umatilla County Democratic Party at Pendleton City Hall Monday, telling the nearly 40 people assembled for the meeting that he was traveling Oregon’s second congressional district to listen to residents and gauge whether there’s a path to victory.
Van Dyke introduced himself to the audience, touching on his stints as the Marion County district attorney, an executive for Nike and Patagonia and a senior vice president with the World Wildlife Fund. He also fielded questions from the crowd, who not only asked him about his positions on health care, immigration and gun control but also pressed him on the nuts and bolts of how he would finance and run his campaign.
Although Van Dyke mentioned Donald Trump by name sparingly, the president did not escape reference.
“I’m not much different than you,” Van Dyke said. “I wake up and some days I’m angry. Some days I’m also afraid. Recently I’ve been embarrassed and I’ve been saddened.”
Van Dyke said the Democrats wouldn’t be able to turn the second district blue by criticizing Trump or Walden, but by offering a credible candidate who could present a platform that would appeal to rural voters.
But Van Dyke also included a few digs at Walden, accusing him of being “addicted to incumbency.” When Umatilla County Democratic Party Chair Mark Petersen compared Walden to an old pair of shoes that created a sense of familiarity with voters, Van Dyke was ready with a response.
“He is like an old pair of shoes,” he said. “But eventually, old shoes get stinky and need to be replaced.”
Despite talking about his career and political views at length, Van Dyke did not draw attention to his famous father — actor Dick Van Dyke.
If Van Dyke opts to challenge Walden, he’ll join an eclectic group of Democrats vying for the nomination.
The field includes Michael Byrne, a stonemason from Parkdale, Rachael Scdoris-Salerno, a dogsled racer from Bend, Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a former Phoenix, Oregon city manager, and Jim Crary, a retired attorney and oil company executive from Ashland.
It would be a long shot for Democrats to unseat Walden, a nine-term incumbent from Hood River with $1.4 million cash on hand in his campaign account.
Crary knows this first hand, having lost to Walden in 2016 by a 44-point margin.
In an interview Monday, Crary said this election would be different because congressional Republicans’ health care bills are galvanizing District 2 residents to oppose Walden.
Crary said Walden’s role as the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee showed that his fingerprints are all over the American Health Care Act, the House Republican’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Van Dyke said health care would be his top issue as a candidate, and both he and Crary said they would support a single-payer system.
Crary acknowledged that it would be an uphill battle to defeat Walden, but added it was the right time to try.
“If it’s ever going to happen, it’s going to happen this election,” he said.
If it does happen this election, the Democratic nominee will have to overcome District 2’s historically conservative lean and its massive boundaries.
A Democrat last held the seat in 1981 in a district that now covers roughly two-thirds of the state.
While Republicans comprise only 36 percent of registered voters (a 9-point advantage over Democrats), the district has voted heavily for Republican presidential candidates in recent election cycles.
Van Dyke believes there is a path to victory, saying that more District 2 constituents voted for Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden in 2016 than for Walden and Crary combined.
Van Dyke said he’s met the other Democratic candidates and thinks there’s little daylight between them when it comes to policy. Whoever wins the primary, Van Dyke anticipates the other candidates will support the nominee.
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