EDITORIAL: Picking DeFazio’s lockWithout an incumbent, GOP would have a chance

April 25, 2009

Any congressional district that elects a Democrat 18 times in a row might be presumed to be reliably Democratic, but that’s not necessarily the case with Oregon’s 4th District. The southwestern Oregon district that includes Lane County voted for George W. Bush in 2000, and it constituted one of Republican Sen. Gordon Smith’s strongholds. The Republicans’ problem for the past quarter-century is that they haven’t found the right candidate to counter the cross-party appeal of U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio.

Republicans think they might have solved half that problem in the person of Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken. The recruitment chairman for the party’s congressional campaign committee visited Springfield on Friday to survey the political landscape and speak with Leiken about a race in 2010. Leiken is a popular mayor with a base in the district’s population center — unlike the downstate Republican opponents DeFazio has drawn in the past…

But what if DeFazio were out of the picture? He is seriously thinking about running for governor next year. He’s never liked flying cross-country to his Springfield home. His subcommittee will complete work on a six-year transportation bill in the current Congress, and he’d have to wait for a couple of senior Democrats to retire to gain a full committee chairmanship — presuming his party retains its majority. It’s not clear how well DeFazio’s legislative skills could be applied in an executive position, but the congressman would enter next year’s gubernatorial race as one of the favorites.

DeFazio has no clear Democratic successor in the 4th District, and some of the possible candidates would have trouble capturing many Republican votes. Leiken could have the best shot at the seat of any Republican since the 1980s. To have that chance, Leiken will have to begin campaigning soon. And if the mayor launches a serious effort, DeFazio will begin feeling pressure to state his intentions. The 4th District is less solidly Democratic than its congressional voting pattern suggests — and it should become clear within months whether the possibility of change is in the air.
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