PORTLAND - State Sen. Kurt Schrader announced Monday that he'll run for retiring U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley's Congressional seat, becoming the first Democrat to jump into what's shaping up as a marquee race for both parties.
Schrader, who serves as the co-chair of the Legislature's powerful budget-writing committee, could have the Democratic field all to himself. His wife, Clackamas County Commissioner Martha Schrader, was considering a run, but said she'll stand down for her husband.
And earlier Monday, another Democrat who had expressed interest in the race, former Monmouth mayor Paul Evans, took himself out of the running.
In contrast, a contested primary appears to be shaping up on the Republican side.
Already in the race is wealthy businessman Mike Erickson, who ran unsuccessfully against Hooley in 2006.
All but in is former Salem Rep. Kevin Mannix, known for his anti-crime ballot initiatives, who has high name recognition from several previous attempts at winning statewide office.
"If Schrader is the only serious candidate on the Democratic side, that's great news for him," said Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts. "A Republican primary battle could cause them to use up resources, and may leave some bad feelings."
Schrader, a veterinarian and farmer, said that he'd like to continue Hooley's signature work on methamphetamines, identity theft and veterans' issues. He also said he hoped to work on broader topics, including health care reform, and transportation issues.
"We need to get some of the money that's overseas back in this country," he said. "We can't afford to build our transportation, our sewer and water systems without help from the federal government."
Hooley's retirement presented Republicans with one of few opportunities nationally to capture a congressional district that's been in Democratic hands. Including Hooley, six Democrats have announced retirement plans, most of them from districts unlikely to go Republican; 29 GOP House members are not seeking re-election, many of them from swing districts.
Hooley's district, encompassing wealthy Portland suburbs, the state capital of Salem, rural stretches of the Willamette Valley and a portion of the Oregon Coast, is nearly evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with the GOP holding a slim, 5,000 voter registration edge. The district is also home to about 80,000 nonaffiliated voters whose votes could determine the race's outcome.