In the Oregon primary, progressive and establishment Democrats are vying for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Two Democratic primaries for U.S. House of Representatives seats in Oregon could help reveal whether the party’s voters lean more toward progressive or establishment factions in a critical presidential election year.

The state’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes much of the liberal city of Portland, will see its first open Democratic primary since 1996 with the retirement of U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

Two candidates with similar platforms are leading the fundraising: Maxine Dexter, a physician and two-term state representative, and Susheela Jayapal, a former county commissioner supported by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Jayapal is the sister of U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


While outside money and allegations of Republican interference have scarred the race, national Democrats can bet safely on keeping the district solidly blue as they seek to overturn the GOP’s slim majority in the House. Party leaders are taking a closer look at the state’s 5th Congressional District, which will likely host one of the most competitive races in the country.

“This is one of the big swing districts nationally that both parties are really after to keep or win back the House,” Ben Gaskins, associate professor of political science at Lewis & Clark College, said of the 5th. district of Oregon. “I think the big question is, to what extent are Democratic voters actually going to prioritize electability?”

Eager to reclaim the 5th District after it was flipped by the GOP in 2022 for the first time in about 25 years, congressional Democrats are backing Janelle Bynum. They see her as having a better chance of winning in November than Jamie McLeod-Skinner, the progressive who in the 2022 midterm primaries ousted the moderate Democrat who long held the seat then lost to the Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the general election, Gaskins. said.

A sign is displayed at the Clackamas County Democratic Party building in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District on May 17, 2024, in Oregon City, Oregon. Two Democratic primaries for U.S. House of Representatives seats in Oregon could help reveal whether the party’s voters lean more toward progressive or establishment factions. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

“I think a lot of Democrats are going to blame her,” he said of McLeod-Skinner’s narrow defeat in 2022. “She had a chance. She lost.”

Key Democrats have backed Bynum, including Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek and three of the state’s U.S. representatives.

The U.S. House Democrats’ fundraising arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, named Bynum to its “Red to Blue” program, noting that Bynum had already defeated Chavez-DeRemer in the election legislative. The program provides organizational and financial support to Democrats running to flip GOP districts.

Meanwhile, a political action committee’s late spending increase on behalf of McLeod-Skinner has raised questions about whether Republicans are trying to tip the scales in favor of a more progressive candidate than they considered easier to beat in general elections.

Rep. Richard Hudson, chairman of the House Republicans’ campaign arm, said he had no knowledge of Republican involvement in the Democratic primary.

The boundaries of the 5th District were significantly redrawn following the 2020 census. It encompasses disparate regions stretching from the Portland metropolitan area and its wealthy, working-class suburbs, as well as rural agricultural and mountain communities and the city growing plant in Bend, central Oregon, on the other side of the Cascade Range.

“I think the candidates are trying to figure out exactly what the secret sauce is for this district, because there are so many different interests here,” said Chris Koski, a political science professor at Reed College in Portland.

McLeod-Skinner, an attorney who has served in several local governments, lives in central Oregon with her wife and presents herself as someone who can bring rural and urban voters together. Her campaign website says that while attending high school in southern Oregon, she helped support her family “by clearing stables and cutting hay.” This is her third time running for Congress.

Bynum, of Washington, D.C., was elected to the Oregon House in 2016, representing the southeast suburbs of Portland. She served on the chamber’s small business committee and owns four McDonald’s franchises.

Both women studied engineering and have similar political positions. They support abortion protection, lowering health care costs and fighting climate change.

As of Friday evening, Bynum had outperformed McLeod-Skinner by about $385,000. But much of the money in the race was not spent by super PACs. These groups cannot contribute directly to campaigns, but can spend unlimited amounts on advertising for or against candidates.

A PAC called Mainstream Democrats spent nearly $380,000 supporting Bynum and the same amount opposing McLeod-Skinner, according to federal campaign finance filings.

Although both candidates have engineering degrees, the 314 Action Fund, which says it focuses on electing Democrats with science backgrounds to Congress, has spent more than $470,000 on ads and mailers supporting Bynum.

The super PAC also invested heavily in Oregon’s 3rd District, spending nearly $2.2 million on ads supporting Dexter, a pulmonologist.

Another PAC, the recently formed Voters for Responsive Government, spent $2.4 million opposing Jayapal.

Jayapal and McLeod-Skinner have criticized what they call “dark money” flowing into racing.

Jayapal suggested that 314 Action Fund spending in the 3rd District is linked to “MAGA Republican mega-donors.” His campaign manager, Andrea Cervone, said in an email that there was “a growing trend across the country of billionaires and millionaires with a history of donating to MAGA Republicans” who funnel money to Democratic primaries, but did not provide a specific example of how the group is linked to those donors.

Cervone said the 314 Action Fund raised and spent much of its money in April, meaning the group won’t have to disclose its donors until the next federal filing deadline, May 20, the day before elections.

314 Action Fund President Shaughnessy Naughton said in an emailed statement that the group she founded has spent millions of dollars to “defeat MAGA Republicans.”

“It is unconscionable and an act of desperation for Susheela Jayapal’s campaign to make these false accusations,” she said.

In a statement this month in response to comments about “dark money,” Dexter condemned outside spending on ads targeting his opponent: “I do not condone or support these negative ads in any way and remain committed to a positive conversation. »

Dexter’s campaign has also been boosted recently by direct contributions from individuals. She said she raised more than $218,000 in a single day earlier this month, including from donors who had previously given to Republican candidates and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, according to federal documents .


Jayapal is presenting herself as the first candidate in the race to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.

With Democrats leading each race widely sharing their policy platforms, voters may have to choose based on their style. Dexter and Bynum are highlighting their legislative records, while Jayapal and McLeod-Skinner are leaning on their progressive endorsements, Gaskins said.

“This division between pragmatism and idealism within the Democratic electorate will, I think, be the best way to distinguish them,” Gaskins said. “Is it about taking the boldest progressive stance on these issues or emphasizing the ability to get things done?”