First District Race a Yawner

David Wu's resignation amid a sex scandal teed up expectations of national media attention to select his successor, as it did when Andrew Weiner resigned after his sexting scandal. Photo by BikePortland.org.Oregon's First Congressional District special election next month has failed to capture national attention as expected. In fact, former Congressman David Wu has attracted more press notice by showing up on Capitol Hill to attend congressional hearings.

Wu's resignation this fall amid a sex scandal involving an under-age woman, which Wu continues to deny, seemingly set the stage for national political theater, akin to what happened in the wake of New York Congressman Andrew Weiner's resignation following a sexting scandal. But it hasn't happened here, at least so far.

To be sure, some national campaign money has flowed in for ads for and against Democrat Suzanne Bonamici and Republican Rob Cornilles. But neither has been hounded by a horde of reporters from national media. Both are running generally positive ads about themselves and the values they offer. The race as a result has been rather ho-hum.

One leading public opinion poll suggests Bonamici is leading Cornilles by a 52-41 margin, which could account for the lack of interest. If Cornilles was leading, the race would be touted by GOP leaders as a further sign of voter rejection of President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Fox News would be all over the story.

Congressional Democrats aren't saying much either, even though Bonamici expresses support for taxing millionaires to avoid spending cuts that affect the middle class. Bonamici also talks about realigning Washington's priorities and working across political boundaries, which don't appear to resonate in the nation's capital right at this moment with either party.

Another way to view the race is that the special election is mostly a dress rehearsal for the fight ahead in the general election, which could pit the same two candidates against one another, on different terms. The special election to fill the remainder of Wu's term is being conducted in the existing congressional district that includes Southwest Portland. The general election contest will be based on new First District boundaries that are dominated more heavily by suburban voters. 

Perhaps ironically, Bonamici co-chaired the 2011 legislative committee that drew the new district lines. That could give her an unusually detailed insight into where to look for her voters.

Non-stop partisan sparring in Congress, which is continuing over extension of a temporary Social Security tax cut, hasn't excited much voter activism. To the extent anyone is paying attention to politics, it centers on the GOP presidential contest. Republicans are wondering — or should be wondering — whether any of the current candidates with still be in the hunt when the Oregon primary rolls around in May. Democrats see the contest, with a parade of frontrunners who fade as fast as they burst on the scene, as great fodder for faux news shows and Saturday Night Live.

The short timelines of a special election restrict how much retail politics candidates can conduct. So Bonamici and Cornilles have understandably focused on paid TV advertising. Cornilles has repurposed and expanded his large lawn-sign inventory left over from his previous challenge to Wu in 2010.

The Oregonian has carried two lengthy features on the candidates. The first took a critical look at Cornilles' claim to be a job creator. The second traced Bonamici's liberal voting record while serving in the Oregon legislature.

There is still time for national pundits to travel to Portland to cover the election, which will be decided January 31. With Oregon's mail-in ballot, which most of the country's politicos cannot figure out, most Oregonians may already have sent in their votes before the national news stories appear. Chances are, nobody would have noticed anyway.