Primary Blues

Early results from May 17 Election Day show tight local races, decisive party nominations for state and federal candidates

Heather Buch. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Throughout the U.S., most of former President Donald Trump’s endorsed candidates are winning their races. In Oregon, a conservative wave is present in local nonpartisan races without Trump’s help. On a state and federal level, the party nominees are set for the November general election. 

State and federal level Democratic candidates are looking to run against their conservative opponents — with big wallets. But May 17 Election Day results show close races for some of Lane County’s local nonpartisan races, a result of conservative ideologies seeping into local races, says political analyst Rachel Bitecofer.

“It’s absolutely part of the national political disaster that we’re in,” Bitecofer says of the local conservative votes. While working as a lecturer for ​​Christopher Newport University in Virginia, Bitecofer gained fame for predicting the 2018 “Blue Wave” midterm election and is now based in Oregon during the 2022 election. “It’s not anti-incumbency. It used to be and was about being too ingrained. They may say that now, but it’s ideological purity.” 

Two incumbents on the Lane County Board of County Commissioners — Joe Berney of Springfield and Heather Buch of east Lane — are in tight races against conservative opponents, as of 11 pm Election Day results. As Eugene Weekly went to press, Berney was losing by less than 150 votes and Buch was winning by about 500 votes against conservative opponents.

Buch tells EW that the results show that she has support for the way she has governed on the board through multiple crises — the Holiday Farm Fire and COVID-19. Her race, she adds, speaks to the national sentiment. “There are Republican headwinds going into this cycle. As a nonpartisan, hopefully I can speak to others about the core services the county provides.” 

Retiring conservative Commissioner Jay Bozievich’s west Lane seat is heading to a runoff election. Dawn Lesley, who was within 74 votes of defeating Bozievich in 2014, is behind Ryan Ceniga by more than 100 votes. Those two candidates will face each other in November as neither secured more than 50 percent of the vote.

Oregon’s 2022 May primary is the first election to count ballots postmarked by Election Day, so results will trickle in through the rest of the week. The county will report its next batch of results by 5 pm Friday, May 20. 

Jennifer Yeh. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Eugene City Councilor Jennifer Yeh continues to have control of her seat. Her opponent, former councilor Jennifer Solomon, had support from conservative community members and is behind by less than 300 votes in the race for Ward 4 representing north of Franklin Boulevard and east of Oakway Road in Eugene. Yeh says her lead shows that the community is ready to tackle big issues, whether that means climate change or how to make the council’s decision making more inclusive. 

“It says we can support public safety, support multiple things at the same time. It’s not the one way or the other — we can support things at the same time,” she adds. “We can support both unhoused and the police, and the community recognizes that.”  

Low turnout in the May 17 primary election was expected, Bitecofer says. In Lane County, turnout was 35.2 percent and statewide turnout of 31.06 percent, which isn’t bad, she says. Oregon’s biggest takeaway is what appears to be the primary loss of 5th Congressional District Rep. Kurt Schrader, who suffered a landslide loss to challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, despite President Joe Biden’s endorsement. Clackamas County hasn’t reported its results, so the race isn’t over yet. But if he loses, it’s a sign of left ideological purity, Bitecofer says. “He got the boot for being too moderate,” Bitecofer adds. “It’s rare for an incumbent to lose.”

Retiring Rep. Peter DeFazio’s chosen successor, Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Val Hoyle, secured her seat on election night. Hoyle will face right-wing Republican Alek Skarlatos, who she says will have unlimited money for his campaign from the Republican Party. Skarlatos has been trying to appear more moderate, she adds.

 “We need to make sure people know who he is and make sure the 4th Congressional District continues to have a strong voice in Congress like we’ve had,” Hoyle says, adding that her general election campaign will focus on what she talked about during the primary: ensuring abortion remains legal and accessible and standing up for jobs and the environment. 

Tina Kotek. Photo by Todd Cooper.

At the state level, former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek received the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor, defeating Treasurer Tobias Read and several other candidates. Kotek says that as she heads to November, it’s important to note that she’ll be running against two conservative candidates: former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is running independently, and Republican nominee Christine Drazan. Kotek says that it’ll be the most expensive race in Oregon history, which is why the state needs campaign finance reform. 

“There is so much at stake and voters understand that,” she says, referencing the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, housing and climate change. “I want to take our state forward and two candidates want to take us backward.”