The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Rep. Kurt Schrader loses primary in Oregon’s 5th District

Although he had Biden’s endorsement, Schrader was challenged from the left by Jamie McLeod-Skinner

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More than a week after voters went to the polls, Rep. Kurt Schrader fell to Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th Congressional District.

Results were delayed after blurry bar codes were rejected by vote-counting machines. McLeod-Skinner, a lawyer and natural-resource consultant, will face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the general election, according to the Associated Press.

Schrader was endorsed by President Biden for an eighth term while McLeod-Skinner, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018 as the Democratic nominee in Oregon’s 2nd District, had the backing of several of the party’s more liberal voices, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“This is a David-and-Goliath moment,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party to which McLeod-Skinner belongs. “This win proves that voters are hungry for leaders who will fight for working families, not billionaires and Big Pharma.”

Schrader is the fourth incumbent to lose in this election cycle, following Reps. David B. McKinley (R-W.Va.), Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.).

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) praised Schrader’s bipartisan work and says House Democrats would welcome McLeod-Skinner to their ranks if she is elected in November.

“In his service in the Congress, Congressman Kurt Schrader has been a valued and independent voice. He is respected on both sides of the aisle for his commitment to bringing members together in search of common ground and to delivering for Oregon families,” Pelosi said.

Mainstream Democrats, a PAC funded by tech executive and major party donor Reid Hoffman, had spent nearly $800,000 on the race. In a statement, the PAC said that “the Left has a special obligation to win this general election,” after defeating a conservative Democrat in a place where an appealing Republican recruit could win.

“If the Left ends up replacing Rep. Schrader with a Republican,” a PAC spokesman said, “they will have done grave harm to the agenda they profess to care about.”

Dan Conston, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC, says it likes Chavez-DeRemer’s chances against McLeod-Skinner.

“Democrats ate their own,” he said. “And now a standout Republican candidate will face off against a far-too-liberal activist in Jamie McLeod-Skinner.”

The race was one of the most closely watched Democratic primaries, given that it was the first to earn Biden’s endorsement — but also because the president felt the need to back an incumbent with an uneven track record for supporting his agenda.

“We don’t always agree, but when it has mattered most, Kurt has been there for me,” Biden said last month of Schrader, who initially voted against the American Rescue Plan before eventually backing the legislation. “And in doing so, he has helped to pass much of my agenda into law — making a huge difference in the lives of the Oregonians he represents and all of America.”

Four of the district’s five county Democratic parties endorsed McLeod-Skinner over Schrader, although she won two of them. Deschutes County, in which the challenger had run when it was part of a safe Republican seat, went for McLeod-Skinner by 40 points. That overwhelmed Schrader’s narrow advantage in less-liberal parts of the district.

“Being outspent by unlimited super PAC funds and working without the assistance of the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] never worries us here,” said Jason Burge, the chairman of the Deschutes County Democratic Party. Local activists, he said, had stayed organized after McLeod-Skinner’s 2018 campaign for House. “Her success had enormous coattails that helped establish our ground game in Deschutes that cycle and led to many victories.”

Jerred Taylor, the chair of Linn County’s Democratic Party, said that its precinct leaders felt that McLeod-Skinner would be more electable in November, because Schrader’s role in trimming the Biden agenda would depress the Democratic vote.

“We felt that McLeod-Skinner would have the best chance of energizing voters and of advancing Democrats’ agenda in D.C.,” he said.