Race to represent Oregon’s new congressional district among state’s tightest, most heated

By ALEX BAUMHARDT – of the Oregon Capital Chronicle

The race to represent Oregon’s newest congressional district has become one of the closest and most embittered in the state. 

Democrat Andrea Salinas and Republican Mike Erickson are running to represent Oregon’s 6th Congressional District while embroiled in a legal fight over a campaign commercial that could upend the results of the election.

Erickson is suing Salinas over a negative campaign ad and has threatened to go to court to dispute the outcome if she wins the election. 

The new district, created after the 2020 U.S. Census showed population growth in parts of northwest Oregon, includes Polk and Yamhill counties along with parts of Clackamas, Marion, and Washington counties. It is one of the most diverse voting blocks in the state, encompassing rural areas where many voters work in agriculture and the timber industries and urban areas that have some of the highest numbers of Latino voters in the state. 

The area has favored Democrats, with more voters in the district voting for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race than Donald Trump, according to county election data. Christopher Stout, an Oregon State University associate political professor, said given the demography and voting history of people in the district that Salinas would be an obvious front-runner. She’s a Democrat and a Latina, even broadcasting commercials in Spanish. She’s also dealing with less political scandal than Erickson.

“The fact that it’s a toss up is surprising and speaks to how hard it is to win when your party is in the White House and there are higher levels of dissatisfaction with the party,” Stout said.

Salinas, the current state Democratic representative for Oregon House District 38, which includes Lake Oswego, would be among the first Latinas to represent Oregon in Congress if she won. 

A win for Erickson, founder of a Tigard supply-chain and logistics consultancy, would be his first for political office after losing two congressional campaigns to Democrats in 2006 and 2008.

The Capital Chronicle requested interviews with both candidates to discuss the race. Salinas agreed to a phone interview, but Erickson declined multiple requests.

Andrea Salinas, Democrat

Name: Andrea Salinas

Party: Democrat

Age: 52

Residence: Lake Oswego

Profession: Representative for Oregon House District 38 – Lake Oswego 

Funds raised as of Sept. 9, 2022: $2.4 million

Cash on hand as of Sept. 9, 2022: $207,000

Key endorsements: SEIU Oregon, Service Employees International Union Oregon; Oregon Education Association; Oregon Nurses Association; PCUN, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste

Salinas said in Congress she would first address the financial distress in Oregon. “It really comes down to what I would consider the cost of living and the economy, and how they’re really affecting family budgets and individual pocketbooks,” she said.

She said she would work to reduce prescription drug costs, raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour and promote renewable energy investments to combat high gas prices, climate change and the rising costs of natural disasters caused by climate change.

Salinas supports capping the price of insulin and allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. Both are included in a bill recently passed by Congress.

She is outspoken about protecting access to abortions and supports codifying abortion rights and access to some reproductive health care in federal law following the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade this summer.

She’s also passionate about immigration and workers rights. The daughter of a Mexican immigrant who worked on cotton and tomato farms as a child, Salinas said these issues are central to her campaign. She said she would work on policies to create more legal pathways to citizenship and support extending the federal Labor Practices Act to require overtime pay for farm workers who are currently exempt from the law. The act sets minimum wages and overtime pay for most workers in government and the private sector. In the state Legislature, Salinas co-sponsored an Oregon bill that passed in 2022 guaranteeing overtime pay to farm workers in the state. 

Before serving as a state lawmaker, Salinas was a lobbyist for Causa, a now defunct nonprofit that supported immigration rights, and PCUN, or Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, an advocacy group for farmworkers. She’s also lobbied in Oregon and Washington D.C. on behalf of large environmental groups, reproductive rights organizations and employee unions.

She was first appointed to represent Lake Oswego in the House in 2017 after former Rep. Ann Lininger was appointed as judge to the Clackamas County Circuit Court. Salinas completed Lininger’s term, won her first election in 2018 and was reelected in 2020.

In the Legislature, she was vice-chair on the House Committee on Health Care and the House Majority Whip. She also chaired the House redistricting committee that helped create the boundaries for the new district she is now campaigning to represent. Salinas said her involvement in the redistricting is not a conflict of interest and does not give her an upper hand in the election.

“I would say that I’ve been working on issues that this district cares about for years,” she said. 

Both Salinas and Erickson live in Lake Oswego, just outside the district’s boundaries.

Erickson’s lawsuit includes a veiled threat to contest the election if she wins based on a law that allows a judge to remove a winner if the result is influenced by a lie. Salinas’ ad falsely claims Erickson faced drug charges in 2016.

Salinas dismissed the threat: “That seems like it was taken right out of the Trump playbook. Because he can’t win on his merits, he is threatening the election results.”

Stout said Salinas’ success will hinge on voter turnout. 

“If Democrats turn out in rates you’d expect, she should win; if turnout is low, Erickson could win,” he said.

Mike Erickson, Republican

Name: Mike Erickson

Party: Republican

Age: 59

Residence: Lake Oswego

Profession: Founder, president and CEO of AFMS, a supply chain and logistics consultancy 

Funds raised as of Sept. 30, 2022: $2.2 million

Cash on hand as of Sept. 30, 2022: $29,100

Key endorsements: National Federation of Independent Business, Taxpayers Association of Oregon PAC, Oregon Farm Bureau, Build PAC (National Association of Home Builders)

Erickson founded AFMS Consulting in 1992, a supply-chain logistics firm based in Tigard, where he continues to serve as CEO. 

This is his third congressional bid following losses to Democrat Darlene Hooley in 2006 and Democrat Kurt Schrader in 2008. He also ran and lost twice to serve in the Oregon House in the 1990s.

He’s touting his business experience in his campaign. According to his campaign website, he’ll focus on cutting government regulations on small businesses, reducing inflation, improving public safety, making health care more affordable and increasing domestic energy production.

Erickson wants to “guarantee free and fair elections,” the site says. 

He is against abortion, but has downplayed the issue in his current run.  

During his 2008 run against Schrader, a former girlfriend of Erickson said in an article in the Oregonian/OregonLive that he paid for her to have an abortion in 2001 and drove her to the clinic. Erickson denied the charges, saying he drove her to a doctor’s office and gave her $300, but didn’t know the purpose. Analysts said that severely hampered his bid for Congress at the time.

Salinas has brought up the issue again in her campaign commercials, while Erickson has called Salinas a career politician who voted to cut funding to police and allow prisoners to vote. 

Stout said he’s surprised that Erickson, who he said has faced more scandals than Salinas, is polling so close to her. He said that might have to do with the amount of money he has spent, specifically on ads.   

According to the Cook Political Report, he has spent more than $2 million on ads in the Portland area, including more than $1 million of his own money. Salinas has spent $1 million on TV ads, her campaign said. 

“The fact that he has spent so much money provides an advantage that Republicans wouldn’t normally have in a congressional district race like this,” Stout said.