Oregon 4th District
Eugene is nestled in the southernmost bit of lowland in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and is surrounded by mountains on three sides. It is a farming center, a lumber metropolis and, most notably, a university town. Settlers arrived here in 1846, farming in the valley and cutting timber in the hills. In 1876, the University of Oregon was established, a symbol of the state’s strong Yankee cultural ethic. Eugene and next-door Springfield, once a lumber town and now a center for the manufacture of computer chips, have grown into comfortable midsized towns. Eugene has bicycle paths along the riverbanks and its main streets, and likes to bill itself as the “Running Capital of the Universe”—Phil Knight and his former University of Oregon track coach, Bill Bowerman, started Nike here, the first soles formed on a waffle iron. Now the second-largest city in Oregon, behind Portland, and often described as one of the most livable in the nation, Eugene has small-town ambience and urban sensibilities (local laws permit nude beaches, but only with individuals of the same sex), and its liberal voters have been vital to Democrats statewide.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Beyond Eugene and Springfield are southwest Oregon’s green-clad mountains, and for years the region cut more timber than anywhere else in the country. But demand for wood is volatile, dependent on the vagaries of interest rates. East Asia increasingly wants unprocessed logs rather than milled lumber, which means fewer jobs for Oregon. The 1980s were tough on this region. Recession reduced demand for housing, and the cutting of old-growth forests was banned to protect the endangered spotted owl. But even as the lumber industry languished, a robust local economy and active job retraining resulted in local job gains in the 1990s. Recent economic development has been diverse, with gains in health care, tourism, and retiree migration from California. But Timber Country, including forest-product businesses, continues to struggle. With the 2006 closing of Weyerhaeuser’s plywood plant, Lane County’s wood-products-sector employment dropped by two-thirds from its 1977 peak of 14,000 jobs. The decline of commercial fishing also hit coastal towns of southwest Oregon hard.
The 4th Congressional District of Oregon includes Eugene, Springfield, and surrounding Lane County; it goes south on Interstate 5 to include Roseburg in Douglas County, once one of the premier logging counties in the United States. It extends north to Albany and includes most of Corvallis, except for Oregon State University. It includes the entire southern half of Oregon’s stunning Pacific coastline down to the California border. Eugene is heavily Democratic. Roseburg, the vacation town of Albany, and their surrounding counties vote heavily Republican. The travails of the logging industry moved the area to the right: The 4th District (with only slightly different boundaries) voted 54%-44% against George H. W. Bush in 1988, but 49%-44% for George W. Bush in 2000. In 2004, the 4th voted narrowly for John Kerry, one of just two districts in the nation to flip from Bush to Kerry. It voted 54%-43% for Barack Obama in 2008.