Oregon’s 2nd congressional district has been represented by a Republican since 1981. But that’s not deterring Democratic candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
Even over the phone, it’s clear McLeod-Skinner is determined and optimistic about potentially snagging her district’s spot in the U.S. House of Representatives. Above everything, she’s clearly very proud of her community and where she lives.
McLeod-Skinner lives in Terrebonne, an unincorporated area close to Redmond, with her wife and kids. Although she’s done a lot of traveling, working overseas in places like Bosnia and Kosovo and attending grad school on the East Coast, McLeod-Skinner says Oregon has always been her “home base.” She still holds the 800-meter track and field record at Ashland High School, where she graduated in 1985, according to her Facebook page.
Her district — the state’s largest geographically, with a border starting near Medford, curving up towards Bend and covering pretty much all of central and eastern Oregon — is currently represented by incumbent Greg Walden, and has been represented overwhelmingly by Republicans since its creation in 1893. Only two Democrats have served the district in those 125 years.
“A lot of people who are on the outside make a lot of assumptions about the district,” McLeod-Skinner says. “A lot of folks will say a Democrat cannot win.”
But, McLeod-Skinner says, the area is nowhere as red as people think.
According to the Oregon Secretary of State’s voter registration data from August 2018, only about 34 percent of people in the district are registered as Republicans. About 26 percent are registered Democrats. The other 40 percent are either Independents, non-affiliated or registered with another party.
Regardless of party affiliation, McLeod-Skinner says the people in the area have a lot more in common than some might think. McLeod-Skinner has traveled more than 40,000 miles in the past 15 months meeting and talking with residents across her district.
“June of last year was when I began this listening tour — traveling around and chatting with folks. I officially threw my hat in the ring beginning of [last] July,” she says. “I was struck by the commonality across the district.” McLeod-Skinner says issues like housing, economic development, health care, educational opportunities and broadband internet in rural communities were topics that came up continually.
“My priorities, I think they hold true and match the district well, are being independent-minded, being fiscally responsible and having an absolute commitment to ethics,” she says. “I think that trust in politics, especially amongst younger folks, has really fallen, and so rebuilding that sense of trust and also showing that government can be functional again is critically important.”
McLeod-Skinner’s outreach and presence around the district has already outweighed Walden’s.
“He hasn’t held an open town hall in over 500 days,” she says of Walden. “He’s getting more and more people frustrated with him.”
In fact, McLeod-Skinner herself hasn’t been able to nail Walden down for a debate. “He seems to be getting more and more nervous. He’s not used to competition,” she says.
A variety of news outlets in the area, such as the Medford Mail Tribune, the Klamath Falls Herald and News and the Bend Source Weekly, among others, have reported on Walden’s lack of presence in the district.
In Walden’s public absence, McLeod-Skinner says her campaign has gained a lot of momentum. The Independent Party of Oregon recently endorsed her, and a group called Republicans for Jamie also recently formed, she says.
After repeatedly trying to set up debates with Walden, McLeod-Skinner held an Aug. 31 town hall at Rogue Community College in Medford debating against Walden’s past politics.
“He said his record stands for itself, so we went ahead and did a town hall — me debating his record,” she says. “We just took things from public statements or his voting record and how he handled the issues and asked those questions.”
McLeod-Skinner says several hundred people showed up to that town hall. “Even the overflow room was standing room only,” she says.
She says Walden’s past political actions are what inspired her to run in the first place.
“What really was the trigger for me — I had taken my wife’s grandma to hear Greg Walden speak at a town hall in Medford, this was over a year and a half ago, and the big thing then was health care and they were talking about a bill in Congress and he said he would protect pre-existing conditions,” McLeod-Skinner says. “That was a huge issue at that town hall, not just in Medford, but really across the district, because one in four Oregonians has a pre-existing condition.”
She says just a week or two later, Walden and his committee released legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. “If he [Walden] had been successful, one in five people would lose health care in the district,” McLeod-Skinner says. “So many people, myself included, were very angry and frustrated by that.”
From then on, McLeod-Skinner has been on the move and doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon. She says she’ll continue traveling, visiting counties and hosting events up until the election. “We have a busy schedule,” she says.
McLeod-Skinner says she hopes those outside of her district, especially in urban areas, realize that misconceptions about rural areas and the people who live in them are just that.
“There are really good, caring, hardworking people across my district and in rural communities. There are often misconceptions of those registered to a different political party,” McLeod-Skinner says. “We need to let go of some of those biases and start to listen to each other. There is truly more that unites us than divides us.”
She adds: “My mantra is, regardless of party affiliation we all care about our families and our communities. Those core values of caring, run across the board.”
Visit jamiefororegon.com for more information about McLeod-Skinner and a schedule of upcoming appearances.