Democrats won an early victory in the state last January, when Ron Wyden defeated Republican Gordon Smith in a special election to replace Sen. Bob Packwood. Now, if Democrat Tom Bruggere also beats Smith for Mark Hatfield's long-held U.S. Senate seat, Oregon would be represented by two pro-environment Democrats.
"(Republicans) Hatfield and Packwood were generally pretty hostile to the environment," says Sally Cross of the Oregon Natural Resources Council. "This could mean a huge change."
But it won't be an easy win for Bruggere, a software tycoon with an endorsement from Cross' group's political action committee but no real political experience. Smith, president of the state Senate, has name recognition, experience and is quickly trying to recast himself as a conservationist. During the Wyden campaign, he was labeled a polluter who votes against the environment.
At least two U.S. House races also promise to be close. Democratic incumbent Elizabeth Furse, both applauded and condemned for her leadership against salvage logging, is fighting to keep her seat from Republican Bill Witt. And on the Republican side, freshman Jim Bunn is facing a serious challenge by Clakamas County Commissioner Darlene Hooley, a Democrat who is considered moderate on environmental issues.
A third race, this one in eastern Oregon between Republican freshman Wes Cooley and Democrat Mike Dugan, might have been tight also, but Republican leaders pressured Cooley to step down: He was caught lying about his achievements and then threatened to punch a pregnant reporter. Cooley's replacement is Bob Smith, a popular former Oregon congressman who has been promised the chair of the House Agriculture Committee if he wins.
Democrats hope to make progress in the Republican-dominated state Legislature. While the biggest election issues are education, transportation and crime, some Democrats are using the poor environmental records of conservative legislators to win votes. "We have a chance to get a moderately friendly legislature," says ONRC's Cross.
On the ballot: U.S. SENATE: Gordon Smith (R) vs. Tom Bruggere (D). U.S. HOUSE: 1st District - Elizabeth Furse (D-incumb.) vs. Bill Witt (R); 2nd District - Bob Smith (R) vs. Mike Dugan (D); 3rd District - Earl Blumenauer (D-incumb.) vs. Scott Bruun (R); 4th District - Peter DeFazio (D-incumb.) vs. John Newkirk (R); 5th District - Jim Bunn (R-incumb.) vs. Darlene Hooley (D).