Republican Greg Walden seeks an 11th term as the U.S. representative for Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District. But he said this election is different.
He is feeling heat from some constituents. He has paid for billboards. And Democrat challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner said she has now raised more than $1 million. Still no threat to the $3.2 million in Walden’s account, but a good showing for a Democrat in this district.
A look around Pendleton shows plenty of McLeod-Skinner yard signs and none for Walden. Still, his visit Friday to town drew all of four protesters outside the Umatilla County Courthouse, Pendleton, while about a dozen local public and health officials crowded into a conference room to meet with the man.
Walden and McLeod-Skinner this week talked about key issues in the race.
“We’ve got systems that are broken,” McLeod-Skinner said, with 50 percent of district residents at or near the poverty line.
She took that figure from the United Way’s “ALICE Report” for “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed,” which qualifies the threshold as the average income a household needs to afford basic necessities (housing, child care, food and the like). The ALICE Threshold includes poverty-level households.
U.S. Census data shows 13.8 percent of the district’s population had income below the poverty line, while the median household income is $51,813 and the mean household income is $68,305.
Walden said he does not see 50 percent poverty in the district, but pockets lack economic recovery and growth while others are booming.
Walden said rural broadband is essential to the district’s prosperity. T-Mobile has an “aggressive plan” to build the next generation of wireless communication throughout Eastern Oregon, he said, and other companies are likely to follow. Walden said public safety, education, health care and business all will benefit.
“This is really important to make sure we’re not left behind,” he said.
McLeod-Skinner, too, said growth hinges on broadband. She also touched on the need for a compact between states so Oregon could take more water from the Columbia River for growth. And she said the Port of Morrow could be just the place for a regional recycling hub.
Retaliatory tariffs on American agricultural exports are jeopardizing communities, McLeod-Skinner said, and the $4.7 billion bailout to make up for losses is not the answer.
“Farmers don’t want to borrow money from China,” she said, “they want to sell wheat to China.”
Walden agreed, but he said the wheat farmers he talked to are going to take the “Trump bump” at 14 cents per bushel, and the tariffs are endurable for now. He contended the administration’s use of tariffs is resulting in better deals with Canada and Mexico, with China as the big goal.
According to the Pew Research Center, the U.S. tariffs in 2016 across all products was 1.6 percent. Mexico’s was 4.4 percent and China’s was 3.5 percent.
McLeod-Skinner advocated for doctors, nurses and other professionals and tradespeople to serve in rural Oregon in exchange for the cost of their education.
“When I think about health care, I think about big picture ideas,” she said.
That includes the consolidation of services and industry, she said, so patients could obtain health insurance through the government or a public-private partnership.
And she wants to allow for the negotiation with pharmaceutical companies to keep drug prices down.
Walden rolled through Eastern Oregon on Friday to talk about his bill that helps local communities fight the opioid crisis.
“This will save lives,” he said.
And he defended his vote to end the Affordable Care Act.
“Nobody gets kicked off as long as you’re on Medicaid,” he said.
McLeod-Skinner, her supporters and Walden critics have hammered the conservative politician for his lack of public town halls this election. McLeod-Skinner said that’s part of the job.
“No. 1 — show up,” she said.
Walden contended he has no problem with that and has had multiple meetings on his seven trips this year to Umatilla County alone.
“I’m talking to people all over the district,” he said.
But he does have a problem when people berate and even threaten his staff, he said, that’s become a regular occurrence at his office in Bend. He said there’s is more to the job than holding town halls, and in the past 12 months he handled 129,500 correspondences through a variety of means.
“So I’m deeply engaged in all of this,” Walden asserted.
McLeod-Skinner said if she wins, she is heading to Burns on Nov. 7 to attend a public meeting. She said she is committed to maintaining connections with the people of the district.
Walden said he remains dedicated to working for the district and the often quiet work of passing bipartisan legislation. He said 92 percent of his 129 bills have had the support of 10 or more Democrats. The bill to fight opioid addiction passed with a wide bipartisan margin.
Political forecasting websites show the House is likely to flip from Republican control to Democrat, but Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District remains a Republican lock. Fivethirtyeight.com estimates McLeod-Skinner taking almost 35 percent of the vote and Walden winning with about 61 percent.
That would be a drop of about 11 points for Walden since the 2016 election.