Though he lost in his native Hood River County, Senator Chuck Thomsen (R., Hood River) was re-elected as State Senator for District 26 — beating his Democratic challenger, Chrissy Reitz, also of Hood River, by just 209 votes.
The race was too close to call in the days and weeks following the Nov. 6 election and many anticipated that it would end with an automatic recount, but Thomsen ended up coming out on top with a .35 percent margin — just above the .20 percent threshold for an automatic recount.
“We would’ve liked more (votes), but we’ve always run a non-negative campaign … I think it’s destructive to a community to run a negative campaign,” he said. “(But) negative campaigns work, that’s why they do it.”
He gave credit to his wife, Kristi, and his Chief of Staff/Campaign Manager, John Swanson, who both reviewed and approved all materials sent out to voters, as well as the rest of his team; but attributes his win, primarily, to being “a really good door-knocker.”
While Swanson came with him and took note of his conversations with folks who answered the door, Thomsen said that he made a point to personally knock on as many doors as he could.
“If I hadn’t knocked on 12,000 doors myself, I wouldn’t have won,” he said. “… People want to see the candidate at the door, and we’ve always run an old-fashioned campaign and it’s always worked.”
Thomsen, who spent the last couple weeks in Arizona visiting his daughter for the Thanksgiving holiday, said that watching the numbers come in after the election was “probably the hardest part” for him.
“I’ve always won by a significant enough margin that I’ve never had to look at those numbers,” he said.
He attributes the closer margin this year to what he called the “Trump factor” — a residual partisan divide from the 2016 presidential election — and other factors that his campaign team didn’t account for, such as a high voter turnout in a non-presidential election year.
“I knew it would be close, I knew there would be outside factors … and I wanted to see if old-fashioned tactics would still work,” he said. “I knew I would win, but I didn’t know by what margin.”
Of the three counties in District 26, Thomsen only won one: Clackamas County, 17,037 votes to Reitz’ 13,695, a 10.86 percent margin — but that was enough to secure his win in the overall election.
Reitz, a former neo-natal intensive care nurse who currently chairs the Hood River County School District Board, narrowly won Multnomah County, 8,985 votes to Thomsen’s 8,217, a 4.46 percent margin, and won by a significant 21.88 percent margin in her native Hood River County: 6,583 votes to Thomsen’s 4,218.
When asked about his loss in Hood River County, Thomsen said, “To me, it makes no difference: I won by 209 votes, I’m not going to change who I am.”
His message to Hood River County and constituents who did not vote for him is the same one he gave knocking on doors, he said: “If you call me and ask for my help, I don’t ask if you’re Democrat or Republican — I help you … that’s kind of who I am and what I do, so nothing changes there.”
When asked about his plans for the next legislative session, he said, “(It will be) no different than any other year, issues are still kind of the same out here,” referring specifically to PERS debt and school funding.
He anticipates to continue sitting on the same committees: Full Ways and Means, Business and Transportation, Education and an education budget subcommittee.
He intends to partner with Senate Leader Peter Courtney again on a bill to reduce burden on college loans and will also work bills to support the food bank and sheriff’s departments.