Rep. Kurt Schrader (D)
Oregon 5th District
The Willamette Valley was the great Promised Land at the end of the Oregon Trail, shielded from the cold storms of the Pacific by mountains but squeezing most of the moisture out of the clouds in the form of rain, fog, and persistent mist. New England Yankees planted small towns they called Salem and Oregon City, founded schools and colleges, built tall-spired churches and eventually Salem’s distinctive Art Deco state Capitol. This was one of the few valleys in the West that settlers found readily suitable for agriculture. The Willamette Valley’s soil is fertile, the plain created by the waters of the Willamette sweeping down from the mountains is broad, but industrial runoff has made the river among the most polluted in the nation. Metro Portland has also intruded on the land, with young people leapfrogging over the parcels protected from development and into Clackamas and Marion counties to the south. Salem and Eugene are battling for the distinction of Oregon’s second-largest city. In 2003, rapidly-growing Salem passed Eugene in population, but Eugene regained second-largest-city status in 2007, according to the Center for Population Research at Portland State University.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 5th Congressional District of Oregon includes much of the northern Willamette Valley. Near Portland is the old pioneer town of Oregon City, which was the end point of the Oregon Trail. The district spreads south to the state capital of Salem, also home of Willamette University, the oldest university west of the Mississippi River. It includes part of Corvallis, home of Oregon State University and its renowned agricultural science department. Then it hops over the Coast Range to take in Lincoln and Tillamook counties, which are fishing and logging and cheese-making communities. The district also includes all of rural Polk County. Although the area remains one of the nation’s chief producers of processed vegetables, its crops of beans and berries have dropped significantly, while nurseries have become a new growth industry. The Willamette Valley is also home to a burgeoning wine industry that produces prize-winning Pinot Noir. In 2007, wine grapes became one of Oregon’s top 10 money-producing crops. Historically, the valley was Republican, like the original home of many of its settlers, New England. But like New England, it has been trending Democratic, and now is marginal territory. The Corvallis area is heavily Democratic, the Salem area more likely to be Republican while Clackamas County is competitive. George W. Bush won this district by fewer than 5,000 votes in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. In 2008, Barack Obama defeated John McCain 54%-43%.
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D)
Elected: 2008, 1st term.
Born: Oct. 19, 1951, Bridgeport, CT .
Education: Cornell U., B.A. 1973; U. of IL, D.V.M. 1977.
Family: Married (Martha); 4 children.
Elected office: OR House, 1997-2003; OR Senate, 2003-08.
Professional Career: Former aide, AK Gov. office; Veterinarian, 1978-2008.
The congressman from the 5th District is first-term Democrat Kurt Schrader. Schrader was born in Bridgeport, Conn., the oldest of three children of a chemical engineer and his wife. He studied government at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., where he met his wife, Martha, also a Cornell student. Schrader went on to pursue his passion for veterinary medicine at the University of Illinois. After college, the couple wanted to move West, and settled in Oregon. Schrader currently runs two veterinary clinics in Canby, Ore., and his wife is a Clackamas County commissioner. They live on a 60-acre gentleman’s farm listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
|Kurt Schrader (D)||181,577||(54%)||($1,389,050)|
|Mike Erickson (R)||128,297||(38%)||($2,594,663)|
|Sean Bates (I)||6,830||(2%)|
|Kurt Schrader (D)||51,980||(54%)|
|Nancy Moran (D)||18,597||(19%)|
|Steve Marks (D)||17,643||(18%)|
|Andrew Foster (D)||6,104||(6%)|
Schrader launched himself into public service as a member of the Canby planning commission for 15 years, assisting in development of the city’s land use plan. In 1997, he won a seat in the state House, and six years later, was elected to the state Senate. There, he was co-chairman of the Joint Ways and Means Committee, with jurisdiction over taxation. His major focus was improving public education, and Schrader pushed legislation to tax new construction to pay for schools. He developed a reputation as a conservative Democrat by opposing his party on some key issues, such as increasing the minimum wage.
The 5th District seat opened when six-term Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley announced her retirement in February 2008. Schrader was the first Democrat to file for the race. He lent his campaign $130,000 during the primary and won over 50% of the vote against three opponents. In the general election, he faced shipping entrepreneur and 2006 GOP nominee Mike Erickson. Erickson had challenged Hooley two years earlier, and held her to 54% of the vote. In that contest, he spent $1.8 million, most of it his own money. In the 2008 Republican primary, Erickson lent his campaign $1.6 million and ran a series of ads attacking the legislative record of his chief rival, former state Rep. Kevin Mannix. But Mannix hit back and in the process contributed what would become the race’s defining story, when he publicized allegations that Erickson had impregnated a woman in 2000 and then paid for an ensuing abortion. Erickson admitted to the relationship but denied paying for an abortion. He defeated Mannix by just over 1,000 votes.
The general election was initially considered wide open. This was George W. Bush territory in 2000 and 2004, and Hooley had faced competitive contests in previous years. But the district had experienced a surge in new Democratic voters in the latter half of 2008, giving Democrats their first voter-registration advantage in the district in 12 years.
As the race progressed, Schrader emerged as the favorite. Erickson was unable to shake the allegations pertaining to his earlier romantic relationship—it was the subject of a June article in The Oregonian—and he limited his public appearances during the campaign. Erickson attempted to slow Schrader’s momentum by running ads claiming his opponent would vote for “the largest tax increase in American history.” He also attacked Schrader for failing to pay his property taxes on time, as the local news media reported in 2005. But Schrader received major endorsements from the Oregon Farm Bureau, and The Oregonian and the Statesman Journal newspapers. He also got financial help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Erickson outspent Schrader by over $1 million, but Schrader prevailed 54% to 38%. He carried every county in the district and won 74 percent of the vote in the liberal stronghold of Multnomah County.
As a member of Congress, Schrader earned a spot on the House Agriculture Committee, a good fit for his agriculture-heavy district.