SALEM — A U.S. senator from Oregon has raised over $4 million for his campaign to win another six-year term.
Not Sen. Ron Wyden, who is up for re-election this year.
The bankroll is held by Sen. Jeff Merkley, who wouldn't run again until 2026.
Wyden has $6 million in the bank for the 2022 race to hold the seat he first won in 2016. The six candidates who have filed to run against Wyden altogether have under $60,000 in the bank.
The numbers will rise when new campaign finance data for the final three months of 2021 is released later this month. But Wyden's fundraising lead is extremely unlikely to shrink.
The two Oregon senators' ongoing fundraising underlines the reality that incumbents' campaigns for the U.S. Senate — and U.S. House — slow but never stop between elections.
Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, says a large cache of money acts as a firewall against political surprises for officeholders.
"Incumbents almost always have several hundred thousand dollars in the bank — and if they do not have strong challengers, that amount will grow," Moore said. "Kurt Schrader is a great example of this in the Oregon delegation."
Schrader is the least liberal Democratic House member from Oregon with the most politically competitive of the state's five current congressional districts. He's won every race since he was first elected in 2008, but never with more than 55% of the vote. That is hair-thin compared to others in the Oregon delegation.
With redistricting for the 2022 election, he's also the incumbent of a 5th Congressional District that was shifted significantly east. The new district is a swath running from Portland over the Cascades to Bend. It's still a competitive district, with a projected 3% Democratic voter tilt, according to the political website FiveThirtyEight.com.
The 5th district race has drawn candidates in both the May primaries and November general election.
Former candidate for secretary state and for the 2nd Congressional District Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Crooked River Ranch is running to Schrader's left in the May Democratic primary. Along with political lines, the two Democrats are from opposite sides of the mountains.
The winner will face the GOP primary victor from a field that so far includes former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer and Jimmy Crumpacker, a Bend resident who finished fourth in the 2020 2nd Congressional District Republican primary won by U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario. Both are staunch conservatives.
Schrader starts with a big financial advantage over any potential opponent, with $3.3 million in the bank. DeRemer reported over $300,000 raised prior to Oct. 1. McLeod-Skinner's campaign will officially report its first fundraising numbers later this month, but says it raised $227,000 in November and December.
The automatic nature of fundraising is seen in the campaign coffers of U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield.
As the longest-serving U.S. House member in Oregon history and chair of the House Transportation Committee, he's been a strong fundraiser since first elected in 1986.
He represents the 4th Congressional District that runs from Corvallis to take in the southern portion of the state. The district had grown more competitive in recent years. DeFazio won with just 51.5% of the vote in 2020.
DeFazio raised $1.2 million in the first nine months of 2021 and was expected to pull in the more than $5 million that went into his 2020 campaign.
Democrats redrew his district to reinforce the party's edge. FiveThirtyEight.com projects the new district to have a 9% lean for Democrats.
With the seat more securely tilting in his party's favor, DeFazio announced Dec. 1 that he would not seek another term.
Val Hoyle, the state labor commissioner, announced the same day that she would give up her re-election bid to run for DeFazio's seat.
Because of federal campaign fund limits, she'll have to start over without the $532,000 she raised for the state race. Her campaign says it raised $210,000 in December under Federal Election Commission rules.
Hoyle is one of four Democrats and two Republicans to create campaign finance committees with the FEC.
Among Republicans, Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg raised $775,000 through September and will add to that number when reports for the past three months are added in.
"I'm happy to announce that I raised over $425,000 in the last 3 months of 2021 & more than $1 million since announcing my campaign for OR04 in May," Skarlatos said in a statement this week.
Skarlatos gained international attention for being among a group that fought and subdued a terrorist intent on a mass murder aboard a train to Paris. With the enthusiastic backing of Oregon and national Republicans, Skarlatos raised $5.38 million for the 2020 election, which DeFazio won with 51% of the vote to 46% for Skarlatos.
Redistricting created boundaries for the five existing congressional seats and one new seat awarded Oregon for its increased population over the past decade. Under the new maps, incumbent U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, in the 1st Congressional District and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, in the 3rd Congressional District will run for re-election with strong Democratic voter edges.
Bentz, the only Republican in the delegation, is running for his second term. His 2nd Congressional District became even more Republican-favored with redistricting as Democrats pulled Bend into the 5th District. Bentz was left as the incumbent of the rest of the area east of the Cascades and a portion of southwest Oregon around Medford.
The 6th Congressional District has a Democrat lean, but no incumbent. A quirk in the U.S. Constitution does not require House members to live in their district. While candidates from outside of districts — including McLeod-Skinner and DeRemer in the 5th District race — the largest number filed in the 6th District. The seat, based around Salem, has drawn politicians from the Portland area into the race.
Moore said having a strong donor list from state or local races is a big plus. But federal campaign finance rules and limits — and ways around them — don't automatically translate into fundraising success in the jump to federal races. While raising money in Oregon is paramount, the Skarlatos campaign shows that big donations from national groups can tilt or even the political playing field.
"Where money makes a very interesting difference is in open seats," Moore said. "Oregon’s CD 4 and CD 6 are in this category. Fundraising will tell us a lot about whether one party or the other truly thinks it can win either of these seats."
DeFazio's announcement that he wouldn't run just three months before the deadline to file to run for Congress shows uncertainty is built into the system. The races still have time to get scrambled further. Candidates have until March 8 to get in, or get out. Once the fields are set, the money spigot will open wider.