Politics

Democrats raise concerns about Republicans meddling in a competitive Oregon primary

WASHINGTON — (AP) — A new political action committee has begun pouring money into a key Oregon swing district just days before the Democratic primary there, raising questions about whether Republicans are trying to tilt the scales in the contest.

The primary features Janelle Bynum and Jamie McLeod-Skinner and will take place Tuesday. The Democrats are vying to compete against Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer, a first-term Republican lawmaker who narrowly won the 2022 election over McLeod-Skinner by about 7,300 votes and just 2 percentage points.

The contest is viewed as one of the most competitive in the nation and will draw a huge amount of resources in the fall as the two major political parties vie for control of the House. The district is one of 16 won by President Joe Biden now represented by a Republican in the House.

The new super PAC called Health Equity Now has reserved about $352,000 in advertising with spots supporting McLeod-Skinner, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact. The ads began running in the Portland market on Wednesday and state that McLeod-Skinner is “putting progressive values into action” by supporting Medicare for all and taking the fight to insurance companies.

The group behind the ads registered with the Federal Election Commission on May 3. It won't need to file its donors until after the election, avoiding giving the voters information about who — or what interest group — is behind the late-breaking wave of cash. But what has raised questions with Democrats is that the ad buying firm placing the buys, Fidi Media, LLC, has traditionally been employed by Republican candidates, FEC records show.

Trevor Kowalski is listed as treasurer for Health Equity Now. A person named Trevor Kowalski served as an official for a political committee that raised money for former football player Herschel Walker in 2022 when he ran for the U.S. Senate in Georgia as a Republican.

Those clues have the campaign for Bynum crying foul, with a spokesperson saying the ad buys “certainly looks like there are ties to Republicans.”

“Let us be crystal clear, Jamie McLeod-Skinner is House Republicans’ dream opponent because they know they can beat her -- making this shady GOP election meddling in a Democratic primary all the more alarming," said Blakely Wall, a spokesperson for the Bynum campaign.

McLeod-Skinner said she didn't know about the group, but the substance of their message in the ads is accurate.

“While I’ve never heard of this group and don’t support undisclosed money in our elections, it’s absolutely true that I believe everyone should have high-quality, affordable physical and mental healthcare," McLeod-Skinner said in an emailed statement.

The campaign arm for congressional Democrats has not formally endorsed in the race, but it has placed Bynum on its “Red to Blue” list, which provides top-tier candidates with organizational and fundraising support. Bynum has twice beaten the Republican incumbent, Chavez-DeRemer, in previous races for the Oregon State House.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not placed McLeod-Skinner on that list. An undisputed progressive, McLeod-Skinner knocked off a longtime moderate Democrat, former Rep. Kurt Schrader, in 2022 only to narrowly lose in the general election to Chavez-DeRemer.

The outside spending in the Democratic primary has favored Bynum so far, with more than $1.2 million flowing through independent expenditures to boost Bynum or oppose McLeod-Skinner.

Whoever emerges from the primary will face a well-financed Republican incumbent in Chavez-DeRemer. She had nearly $1.9 million in cash on hand as of May 1, FEC records show.

Rep. Richard Hudson, chairman of the campaign arm for House Republicans, said he had no knowledge of Republicans getting involved in the Democratic primary, and said he had not heard of the group Health Equity Now or that they were running ads.

“I don't get involved in primaries, especially Democratic primaries,” Hudson said.

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