Cornilles, Bonamici look toward January election

<p style="text-align: center;"></p> <p style="text-align: left;">Democratic state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, the Democratic primary candidate for Oregon’ s 1st Congressional District, waves after as she arrives to her celebration party Tuesday night in Hillsboro.</p>

PORTLAND — A Portland-area congressional seat left vacant by a congressman’s bizarre antics and a sex scandal is a step closer to being filled after Republican businessman Rob Cornilles and Democratic state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici easily won their parties’ nominations.

The nominees immediately set their sights on the real prize, a January special election to fill the nation’s only unclaimed congressional seat, and each continued laying out a case for voters.

With most ballots counted, Cornilles carried the Republican nomination with 73 percent of the vote Tuesday night. Bonamici had support from 66 percent of Democrats.

Cornilles is a sports-business consultant from Tualatin hoping to convince voters that his experience owning a business gives him the background needed to help jumpstart the economy.

“We need someone who has experience starting a small business, hiring people, meeting a budget, meeting a payroll,” Cornilles said.

Bonamici is a lawyer and state senator who is positioning herself as a champion for average Americans and a legislator skilled at driving her agenda.

“I’ll be continuing to talk about my record of standing up for middle class families, seniors and small businesses,” Bonamici said. “I have a record and reputation that show that I can get things done.”

Democratic Congressman David Wu resigned in August after he was accused of making an unwanted sexual advance on an 18-year-old woman. The allegation followed months of reports about his bizarre behavior that concerned some staff members and supporters — including taking an unknown medication from a campaign donor and emailing photos of himself dressed in a tiger suit.

Cornilles sought to tie Bonamici to Wu’s legacy, pointing out that both are lawyers.

“Our last congressman was a lawyer turned politician, and the first district is not better because of it,” Cornilles said. “The number one issue facing this district right now is the economy and job creation. It’s not about writing fine print.”

Bonamici is a lawyer who worked on consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission in Washington before moving to Oregon and going into private practice. She’s repeatedly said voters are tired of hearing about Wu and want to focus on the future.

Cornilles faced little opposition for the Republican nomination and focused his sights on the general election, noting he’ll need support from independents and Democrats to score a victory.

He has downplayed his Republican affiliation, positioning himself as a centrist candidate with an independent streak. Democrats have tried vigorously to tear apart that image and portray him as an extremist and tea party candidate.

“Make no mistake — Oregonians cannot trust Rob Cornilles,” state Democratic Party Chair Meredith Wood Smith said in a statement. Wood Smith’s statement, along with another from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel, indicates the party is likely to hammer Cornilles’ business credentials.

With the primary settled, both parties expect an expensive and hard-fought battle for a victory in the Jan. 31 special election.

Democrats have a solid 13-point registration advantage in the nation’s only vacant congressional district and have held the seat for decades. But Republicans, coming off an improbable special election victory in New York last September, think they have a shot to bolster their majority in the U.S. House.

A January victory will be short-lived. The seat will be back on the ballot in the November 2012 general election, forcing the winner to begin campaigning for re-election almost immediately.

The district is considered the economic engine of Oregon. It includes downtown Portland and major operations for Fortune 500 companies in suburban Washington County. It also includes rural areas in Oregon wine country and stretches to the Pacific coast.

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