Wide Open Races

Sizing Up the Contenders for Greg Walden’s Soon-to-Be-Vacant Congressional Seat

Spoiler: the real race is on the GOP side.

By Julia Silverman February 25, 2020 Published in the March 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

Greg Walden at a 2017 town hall meeting in Bend.

When US Rep. Greg Walden (R-Hood River) announced he was calling it quits after two decades (read: was probably tired of being a Republican in the House of Pelosi and unsure if a Trump-led GOP could retake the chamber this fall), he touched off a scramble to run for Oregon’s first open US House seat in eight years. Oregon’s Second Congressional District is one of the largest by area in the country, covering more than two-thirds of the state from Ontario to Medford to The Dalles, and it tilts Republican. So far, the field reflects that; none of the Democrats in the race have any institutional backing or cash on hand to speak of.

The Vacancy

Greg Walden

Retiring at age 63 after two decades in politics, leaving an opening for the de facto head of the Oregon GOP

The Contenders

Cliff Bentz (R)

Longtime state lawmaker with tons of street cred in Eastern Oregon; was lead negotiator for Republicans in Salem on transportation packages and the cap-and-trade bill, suggesting a bent toward bipartisanship and an acknowledgement that climate change is a thing ... except he fled to Idaho rather than show up for a vote on the bill

Knute Buehler (R)

Former gubernatorial candidate from Bend and the early favorite, with a track record of raising big money; Oregon State University’s first Rhodes scholar; veered hard to the right for the primary after tacking to the center in 2018’s race against Kate Brown; says he’s cool with gay marriage, though it’s nowhere to be found on his website

Jason Atkinson (R)

Southern Oregon–based son of a former Oregon GOP chairman breaking back into politics after a hiatus from the legislature; bike nut to rival Earl Blumenauer; solid record of bucking his own caucus to support enviro-causes, including Klamath River restoration and an early version of the plastic bag ban

The Long Shots

Jimmy Crumpacker (R)

A seventh-generation Oregonian aiming to be a voice for “farmers, ranchers; folks who just want a fair shake,” but also a Portland-raised graduate of an elite New England prep school who’s flush with Wall Street oil money

Kenneth Medenbach (R)

A participant in the infamous occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, Medenbach now carves chainsaw sculptures and builds furniture in Klamath County when not on the campaign trail.

Jack Howard (D)

The former Union County commissioner is a Democrat, but told the La Grande Observer the retiring Walden is “the gold standard of congressmen,” noting “Walden always listens.”

John Holm (D)

Comic book store owner, real estate agent, and political strategist born in Grants Pass; a fan of Medicare for All whose campaign had 47 (and counting!) Twitter followers at press time

More long shots running as of press time: Republicans David Campbell, Mark Roberts, and Jeff Smith; Democrat Nik Heuertz

On the Sidelines

Raz Mason (D)

A self-described “deep-purple” Dem, Mason ran in the primary in 2018 and prepped for a run this year before dropping out to focus on developing a climate change curriculum. Her campaign strategist Alex Spenser, a Klamath Falls–based activist who leads a podcast called WordsWithWings, is running in her stead.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner (D)

The first Democrat to truly give Walden a scare, McLeod-Skinner won relatively populous Deschutes and Hood River Counties in 2018, a blue wave year. Political watchers assumed she’d be a lock to contend for the open seat, but she’s running in a competitive Democratic field for Secretary of State instead.

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