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Oregon's Closest Primary Race Could Take Time To Find A Winner

The Oregon Capitol sits behind the "Walk of Flags" in Salem, Oregon, Saturday, March 18, 2017.
Bradley W. Parks
The Oregon Capitol sits behind the "Walk of Flags" in Salem, Oregon, Saturday, March 18, 2017.

Oregon’s closest legislative primary race won’t be settled until early June.

In Deschutes County’s House District 53, Redmond real estate agent Jack Zika leads conservative activist Ben Schimmoller by just 11 votes in the Republican primary held on May 15.

The final vote count won’t be released until June 4. And if the race remains as close, there would then be a recount that could leave the race in doubt for another week.

The results of the primary could be important. The seat is being vacated by Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, who is retiring after 15 years in office. Democrats say they will make a more determined effort to win a seat that continues to have a GOP registration edge.

Schimmoller, 25, would be the youngest Oregon legislator if elected. He said his primary campaign was more aimed at the Republican base.

Zika “was kind of talking about ideas that maybe would play more in a general election and I was focused on issues defining myself as the primary conservative,” Schimmoller said.

He said he planned to go to law school but decided to jump into this race when the seat opened. Schimmoller listed his occupation as “conservative grassroots activist,” which he said is a nod to his work on several campaigns.

Zika, 40, said he thinks the district is getting more competitive and that he would be a stronger candidate in the fall. He charged that Schimmoller had presented more of an “ultra-conservative side.”

Retired Daimler Truck executive Eileen Kiely handily won the Democratic primary and said she thought she’d be equally competitive no matter which Republican is nominated. She argued that her background in corporate finance would be attractive in a district concerned with complicated issues like taxation and housing affordability.

“People like to talk about it as a red district, but really it’s an independent district,” Kiely said. Kiely noted that voters outside the Republican and Democratic parties account for the largest portion of the electorate.

Deschutes County Clerk Nancy Blankenship said several hundred ballots still remain to be counted. They include ballots dropped off in other counties. Elections officials will also give voters a chance to correct unsigned ballot envelopes or ones where signatures don’t match.

There will be a recount if the final vote tally on June 4 shows that the gap between Zika and Schimmoller is within one-fifth of 1 percent.

Currently, Blankenship said, the recount would be triggered as long as they are within 14 votes. But as more ballots are counted, the range for a recount will grow.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Jeff Mapes is a senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. Previously, Jeff covered state and national politics for The Oregonian for nearly 32 years. He has covered numerous presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and ballot measure campaigns, as well as many sessions of the Legislature, stretching back to 1985. Jeff graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in journalism.