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Oregon’s 4th Congressional District Draws National Attention

Rep. Peter DeFazio (left) and Alek Skarlatos (right)
Rep. Peter DeFazio (left) and Alek Skarlatos (right)

Voters in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District haven’t sent a Republican to Congress since 1972. But the current race between incumbent Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, and GOP challenger Alek Skarlatos is drawing national attention to a degree not recently seen in the district.

Alek Skarlatos gained fame in 2015 when he was part of a group that foiled an attempted terrorist attack on a French high-speed train. The National Guard member from Roseburg received a medal from President Barack Obama and later starred as himself in a movie based on the incident. He also made several appearances on the television show “Dancing With The Stars.”

Now age 28, Skarlatos' TV appearances these days are with sympathetic hosts on Fox News.

During  a recent interview, Lou Dobbs introduced Skarlatos as a “hero” who is running against a “card-carrying member of the radical Dems.”

“As far as the campaign is concerned, we have a lot going for us and we have tons of momentum,” said Skarlatos, who told Dobbs he was “pro-God and pro-gun.”

There have been few, if any, publicly released polls in the race. But while DeFazio has easily won reelection in recent years, it’s clear he’s taking his challenger seriously this time around. He’s running ads  tying Skarlatos to President Donald Trump.

But although the president isn’t expected to do well in Oregon overall this year, he fell just short of Hillary Clinton in the 4th Congressional District in 2016. That’s one factor  the Cook Political Reportcited when moving the district from “Likely Democrat” to “Lean Democrat” this month in the publication’s ratings of Congressional races.

“Any time you have a newcomer who is your opponent, and he is getting lots of money from the Republican National Committee, then you always have to give pause,” said University of Oregon political science professor Priscilla Southwell.

But she said that doesn’t mean DeFazio’s in serious trouble. Democrats still outnumber Republicans by a sizable margin in the 4th District, although unaffiliated voters represent a significant portion of the electorate. The district includes the cities of Eugene and Corvallis, as well as a large swath of rural southwest Oregon, including the southern Oregon Coast.

Southwell said the party registration numbers, along with the tendency of Oregon voters to keep incumbents in office, will ultimately help DeFazio. “I describe people in the 4th District, or even people in Oregon in general, as having all kinds of characteristics. One of them is loyalty,” she said. “If they find someone they trust, or even grudgingly trust, and that person brings home the bacon and is on a powerful committee, they tend to keep those people in office.”

Voters in the 4th District have kept DeFazio in office for more than three decades. In fact, he was already in his third term when Skarlatos was born. But at age 73, DeFazio is still younger than both major-party presidential candidates.

Copyright 2020 KLCC

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”