The Campaign Spot

A GOP Upset Brewing in Oregon?

One of the races easily lost in the hubbub of the presidential race is the special election in Oregon’s 1st congressional district, which was, until recently, represented by Democrat David Wu. You remember him.

A new poll, commissioned by the campaign of Republican Rob Cornilles, shows the GOP nominee within striking distance of Democrat Suzanne Bonamici in a fairly heavily Democratic-leaning district.

The pollster, Moore Information, reports:

The campaign to replace David Wu in Oregon’s First Congressional District is going right down to the wire. In a Moore Information poll of 300 likely voters in the district, conducted January 11-12, Cornilles was supported by 42%, Bonamici by 46%, while 10% were undecided and 2% said they wouldn’t vote for either candidate. Not surprisingly, Bonamici led in the Multnomah County portion of the district, but the race was tied elsewhere.

As ballots begin arriving in voters’ mailboxes, Cornilles appears to be surging. This surge is likely the primary reason the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee has continued their aggressive spending and also helps explain the recent purchase of more than $200,000 in the Portland media market by the Democrat controlled House Majority Fund Super PAC.

Cornilles is benefiting from a political environment that is more negative for Democrats than it was during the 2010 election. Currently, more than six-in-ten district voters believe things in the country are off on the wrong track and just 48% approve of Barack Obama’s performance as president, while 48% disapprove. By contrast in October 2010, Obama’s performance was 53/44% approve.

Both Cornilles and Bonamici still enjoy positive images. Despite nearly a million dollars spent in negative advertising against him, Cornilles is rated favorably by 42%, unfavorably by 36%, while the remaining 22% have no opinion or have never heard of the Republican. Bonamici’s image is 48% favorable, 33% unfavorable and 19% no opinion/never heard.

The telephone poll used live interviewers, January 11-12, 2012, among a representative sample of 300 likely voters in the district. Cellphone-only households were included as part of the sample. Forty-eight percent of the sample are registered Democrats, 35 percent Republicans, and the remainder are non-affiliated/independent/others. The potential sampling error is plus or minus 6 percent.

(Republican chances in an open-seat race are helped slightly by redistricting; as the Cook Political Report noted, “Redistricting made this district about two points more Republican, as it gave up some of its Multnomah County (Portland) precincts to the urban 3rd CD.” (It has just been pointed out to me that I’ve made a glaring error; this race will be the last under the lines that have been in effect since 2002. I suppose one could see this as a dress rehearsal for a potential rematch under the new lines in November.))

The ghost of Wu appears to be haunting the Democrats in this special election; Bonamici recently told an interviewer, “It’s been pretty clear for quite a long time that this district hasn’t had effective representation.” Of course, she donated $250 to him in 2010, his last bid for reelection.

This is a seat the Democrats have held since 1974, and Cornilles is being outspent by a wide margin. He still faces a steep uphill climb, but the fact that Democrats are spending so much suggests they worry about an echo of their debacle in the special election in Anthony Weiner’s district last year, where Republican Bob Turner pulled off the upset.

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