U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., defeated Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner Tuesday night but credited his opponent for mounting a “relentless” campaign that earned more votes than any of his previous opponents.
“No one’s run a more aggressive campaign against me than Ms. McLeod-Skinner — she worked hard and gave voters a choice,” he said.
His offices in Oregon and Washington, D.C., were flooded with phone calls — sometimes the same people calling 10 times per day — and emails during the year that McLeod-Skinner was on the campaign trail, said Walden.
“We received 130,000 letters, phone calls and emails in a 12-month period, and that took a lot of staff time,” he said. “We did our best to address all of the questions and log their opinions — we valued their opinions because that is part of a demonstrative democracy.”
Although Walden was criticized for not being responsive to constituent correspondence, and for holding telephone town halls instead of open meetings within the district, he said the election outcome “speaks for itself.”
“I think that argument was rejected by voters,” he said. “We had 79,000 people participate in the telephone town halls and I think it’s a great tool to interact with people in a meaningful way.”
He held town hall meetings in 2017 where constituents challenged him for not opposing President Donald Trump’s policies. Walden said Tuesday’s vote showed that people in the Second District want “results, not anarchy” in the political arena.
“I ran a positive campaign against a lot of negatives being thrown our way,” he said.
Walden, who has been in office since 1998, captured 56 percent of the overall votes in the district, down from his usual margin of about 70 percent. McLeod-Skinner netted nearly 40 percent in the district and won handily in Hood River County, carrying 63.44 percent of the vote to Walden’s 33.95 percent.
Just 22 miles away, in Wasco County, the results flipped with Walden taking 52.60 percent of the vote to McLeod-Skinner’s 43.05 percent.
“I feel really good about the majority in Wasco County,” said Walden in reference to the fact that Republicans also scored victories in state House, Senate and gubernatorial races.
McLeod-Skinner also picked up Deschutes County by a slight margin, 48.75 percent to Walden’s 48.07 percent, due mostly to votes within the city of Bend, which, like Hood River, has a large liberal population base.
The other 17 counties in the district went to Walden, who has held his seat since 1998.
He faces a new landscape in D.C. with Democrats retaking the majority in the House for the first time in eight years.
Walden said Wednesday that GOP leaders anticipated the loss, which has been historical in mid-term elections when one party is in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress.
In 1994, Democrats lost 52 midterm seats after Bill Clinton’s election and 63 mid-term seats in 2010 under Barack Obama’s administration.
“This was predictable, we saw it coming and I don’t see it as anything too far out of the norm,” said Walden.
Numerous political pundits shared Walden’s assessment, but also said the GOP’s hold on power was further weakened by an unusually large number of retirements and disagreement between conservatives and centrists over their allegiance to Trump.
Democrats, in turn, were credited by analysts with benefiting from high voter enthusiasm, robust fundraising and a field of fresh candidates, most motivated by revulsion over Trump. All 435 seats in the House were up for grabs Nov. 6 and Republicans went into the election with a 23-seat majority. Democrats now hold 219 seats and Republicans 196, with 23 undecided races.
Walden will lose chairmanship of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee when Democrats take control in 2019. He said Democrat Frank Pallone of New Jersey is expected to assume that role and he will be the ranking Republican member.
“Democrats will take over and set the agenda, decide what bills move forward,” he said. “I hope he (Pallone) will be as bipartisan as I was.”
Since he assumed leadership of the committee in early 2017, Walden said 129 pieces of legislation were approved and 92 percent received strong bipartisan support. “More than half were unanimously approved in committee and on the House floor,” he said.
In terms of legislating, Walden said GOP leaders will be in a good position for negotiation given that their party holds the White House and the Senate.
In Tuesday’s election, Republicans expanded their 51-seat majority in the Senate by three seats (some races still undecided).
“Democrats won’t be able to propose anything that makes it’s way into law without support,” he said.
It is troubling, said Walden, that top Democratic leaders have vowed to use their power in the House to engulf the Trump administration in a multitude of investigations and create gridlock for the next two years, until the 2020 presidential election. “We’ll have to see where they go — if they just want to obstruct,” said Walden. “I’ll support what makes sense but if they just want to go on a witch hunt, I don’t think that’s what the voters intended.”
He said Americans are benefiting from a strong economy under Trump and he believes that efforts to overturn or undermine those policies will not find favor with the electorate.
“The unemployment rate is the lowest since 1969 and millions of jobs are being created,” said Walden. “Wages are going up and businesses are benefiting from the tax cuts we enacted earlier this year.”
Walden said his focus will continue to be flying home almost every weekend to meet with constituents and then carry their concerns back to D.C. as his work list.