Abortion, environment take center stage in multimillion-dollar Oregon primary
Reproductive health care and hometown credibility are eclipsing multimillion-dollar spending in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s newly created 6th District, a race that’s become a proxy battle between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the party establishment and a cryptocurrency-backed super PAC.
Abortion rights have shot to the top of the agenda following the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, but environmental issues and one candidate’s overwhelming out-of-state support are also making waves.
A new district poll shows state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D) with a slight lead over Carrick Flynn, a political newcomer who’s had outside groups pour more than $10 million into his primary campaign.
The poll, conducted on behalf of Salinas’s campaign by Democratic pollster Public Policy Polling, shows Salinas leading Flynn with 18 percent favorability against 14 percent among likely Democratic voters.
That’s within the poll’s 4 percentage point margin of error, but Salinas’s lead increases 39 percent to 23 percent among voters who have already cast their ballots, and to 36 percent favorability against 24 percent favorability for respondents choosing only between Salinas and Flynn, discounting the other primary candidates.
The state’s 6th District, which spans from Portland’s ritzy southwest suburbs through wine country and into the state capital of Salem, was newly created after the 2020 census.
Salinas was widely expected to be a front-runner, and she racked up a series of top endorsements, including from pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood.
But the race was shaken up by Flynn’s candidacy, which has received a majority of its support from Protect Our Future PAC, a group closely tied to cryptocurrency billionaire Samuel Bankman-Fried.
Flynn’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
The Democratic House leadership campaign arm also invested around $1 million to support Flynn, angering the Hispanic Caucus’s campaign arm, Bold PAC, which retaliated with its own million dollar expenditure supporting Salinas.
Salinas’s second district-wide ad, which was cut before the Supreme Court draft decision was made public, touts Salinas’s role in passing Oregon’s 2017 reproductive rights law, which protects abortion rights in the state regardless of federal policy.
Salinas told The Hill the Supreme Court decision didn’t change her campaign strategy.
“I don’t know that it has changed anything. I have been an unabashed champion for abortion rights since the Health Equity Act in 2017,” said Salinas.
A survey of Democratic primary candidates in the district by the Salem Statesman Journal found that all Democrats in the primary support abortion rights, including Flynn.
“I wholeheartedly support a woman’s right to choose. My mother became pregnant at 15. Abortion was illegal, and she was forced into a home for unwed mothers where she was abused and mistreated. She never recovered from this deeply traumatic experience. No one should have to go through that. The government has no place in these deeply personal decisions,” Flynn told the Statesman Journal.
But Salinas views the renewed debate over abortion as another opportunity to contrast her political experience and her record on top-flight issues against Flynn’s outsider image.
“I think the voters of Oregon’s 6th Congressional District are smart and understand the difference between saying you’ve done something and delivering on issues important to Oregonians,” said Salinas.
“I think $10 million is a lot of money, and voters know the difference between spending money and getting results,” she added.
And Flynn last month angered the state’s broad environmental movement, pitting conservation efforts against the livelihood of rural communities.
“‘Oh, look. There’s an owl. Isn’t it cool? We’re going to destroy all of your livelihoods in your community because we like this owl,’” said Flynn. “It’s an owl, looks like other owls.”
The Oregon League of Conservation Voters slammed Flynn, who’s painted himself as a leader on sustainability.
“When Flynn says, ‘It’s an owl, looks like other owls,’ he doesn’t grasp how protecting endangered species and old-growth forests is not only about ensuring healthy ecosystems needed for wildlife, but also for people who depend on clean drinking water. Or that our old-growth trees are phenomenal at storing carbon, making them one of our best resources for protecting our climate,” wrote the group.
And Flynn’s overwhelming presence on the airwaves hasn’t been felt on the streets, furthering an image of an outsider.
In an interview with Willamette Week Wednesday, Flynn said he’d knocked on fewer than 500 doors during his campaign, and a separate report by the same outlet found he’d rarely voted in the state, including not voting in 2020, despite maintaining his Oregon voter registration.
Flynn’s image and outside campaign help have hurt his image somewhat, with 26 percent of the district’s voters holding an unfavorable opinion of him, compared to only 7 percent for Salinas.
Still, the outside funding has made Flynn a household name in the district, even eclipsing Salinas’s name recognition.
According to Salinas’s own polling conducted Monday and Tuesday among 591 likely Democratic primary voters, only 46 percent of district residents are unsure whether they have a favorable opinion of Flynn, while 56 percent are unsure about Salinas.
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