The heated Florida Republican primary isn’t the only big election on Tuesday. All the way on the other end of the country is the special election for Oregon’s 1st Congressional District — or rather, the final day of an election where voting has been actively going on for three weeks.
A SurveyUSA poll released in early January, when ballots were first going out, gave Democratic state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici a lead of 50%-39% over Republican businessman and 2010 nominee Rob Cornilles, in the race to fill disgraced Dem Rep. David Wu’s seat.
Wu resigned back in August, after he was accused of an unwanted sexual advance on the teenage daughter of a donor. On the one hand, the seat should be very safe — but on the other, Democrats also lost the seemingly solid New York seat of Rep. Anthony Weiner, who resigned as a result of his own sex scandal involving lewd online chats and photos.
Like all elections in the state, the race is being conducted under Oregon’s mail-in ballot system — which, along with Washington state, is almost nothing like voting in the rest of the country. Instead of most voters going to polling precincts on election day, voters are instead all sent ballots which are then returned by mail. On election day itself, the final voters can hand in their ballots at drop-off locations.
And under this system, first enacted in 1998, Oregon has had among the highest voter turnout in the country — for example, turnout in the 2010 midterm elections, in which the state had a closely contested race for governor, was 72 percent.
“So you could safely say many Oregonians under the age of 30 have never voted in a poll place,” said Andrea Cantu-Schomus, communications director for the Secretary of State’s office. “Including myself — I’m a little over 30, but I voted absentee while in college. So I’ve never voted in a polling place.”
For this race, the ballots went out on January 3. Cantu-Schomus estimated that current turnout for this special election, based only on the ballots that have been turned in is 25 percent. “Generally we do see a big push in the last couple of days, and that has been sort of a new phenomenon that we’ve seen in the last few years,” compared to how in past years, people would tend to turn in their ballots much sooner.
Friday is considered the last day to safely mail a ballot, with confidence that it will arrive at election offices by the Tuesday deadline. After that, voters are encouraged to use the drop-off sites.
In 2008, Barack Obama carried the district by 61%-36%, and Wu didn’t even have a Republican opponent at all, winning with 73% of the vote against a number of independent and minor-party candidates. In the Republican wave of 2010, he won re-election with a still healthy 55%-42% against Cornilles.
Eyebrows were seriously raised in December, however, when the Democratic Congressional Committee reserved over $1 million in TV time for the race. By comparison, the National Republican Congressional Committee only just got involved, airing a coordinated ad with Cornilles.
A Republican source told TPM on Thursday that the race would be an “uphill climb for them,” but also took some pride in it: “But if Dems need to spend over $1 million to hold seats that Obama won with 62%, it’s going to be a long 2012.”
Indeed, in just January alone, the Democratic Congressional Committee has spent almost $800,000 — for a total of nearly $1.3 million on the race overall.
Meanwhile, a Democratic source predicted victory: “Democrats will be successful in Oregon’s 1st district proving that Republican candidates won’t be successful distancing themselves from their tea party roots in the coming election year.”