Yamhill County Republicans threw their support behind Rep. Donna Nelson of McMinnville in Tuesday’s primary, sending her off to face Democrat Tim Duerfeldt, a retired high school teacher, for the second time in two years.
Nelson, a two-term Republican, fended off two challengers: McMinnville police officer Frank Butler and former Yamhill Mayor Charles Mitchell. Both were motivated in part by grumbling, mostly behind the scenes, that Nelson lacked clout in Salem.
While that may be a sentiment whispered among insiders, including some establishment Republicans, it is apparently not one shared the vast majority of voters in her party. Nelson rolled up 67 percent of the vote – an impressive showing for a three-way race.
She picked up more than 3,800 votes. Butler collected a little more than 1,500, or 28 percent, and Mitchell claimed 380, or 5 percent.
“We knew Donna was going to win,” said Neil Cohen, who heads the county’s Republican Party organization. “I think she got focused.
“I think it was good for her to realize that there are people with other viewpoints out there. Competition makes for good candidates.”
Nelson celebrated her primary victory Tuesday night. She expressed gratitude Wednesday for the support from voters in her bid for a third term in Salem.
“I appreciate people and their confidence and trust,” she said. “To me, it said they know I’ve worked hard for them. We have a lot of unfinished business and I’m ready to tackle it.”
For the second time in two years, she will face Duerfeldt, an opponent she turned back handily two years ago. He ran unopposed for his party’s nomination.
Butler said he was pleased with his showing, considering his relatively late start and his decided disadvantage in campaign funding. A self-described Reagan Republican, he said he’s likely to give it another try.
“I got my interest up this time, so I’ll be paying more attention to the House,” he said Wednesday.
Butler said he was relieved that he and Mitchell didn’t collectively pick up more votes than the incumbent. That means he won’t be tormented by the question of how one of them might have fared straight up against Nelson.
“If Chuck had taken the same numbers I did, that would have been more devastating,” he said.
Upsets were registered in two neighboring legislative districts, both of which extend into Yamhill County. One was surprising, the other not so much.
Republicans chose Dallas businessman Brian Boquist over appointed incumbent Jim Thompson to carry their party’s mantle in House District 23. Thompson defeated Boquist in winning appointment to fill the vacancy left by Lane Shetterly’s resignation, but the better-known Boquist turned the tables at the polls..
Thompson seemed like he should be a shoo-in the five-way Republican primary, having already snagged the seat by appointment and easily raised the most money. But two previous congressional runs gave Boquist a name familiarity advantage that Thompson was unable to overcome, even though Boquist raised and spent no money on a campaign.
“Jim put on a decent campaign, but Brian, just from his two previous congressional races, he had great name recognition,” said Yamhill County Commissioner Leslie Lewis.
Thompson was one of three incumbent House members losing Tuesday.
In a district extending into the north end of Yamhill County, taking in Newberg, three-term Rep. Vic Backlund of Keizer was unseated by political novice Kim Thatcher. She hammered away relentlessly on Backlund’s vote for an $800 million tax increase.
Backlund was one of 11 House Republicans who voted for the increase. Their votes were enough to get it through the Legislature, but a petition drive by Citizens for a Sound Economy had it referred to voters as Measure 30, and they trounced it at the polls.
In final, unofficial returns, Thatcher rolled up 59 percent of the vote to Backlund’s 41 percent. Along the way, she enjoyed substantial aid from Citizens for a Sound Economy, a national anti-tax, limited-government group whose Oregon director, Russ Walker, shares Backlund’s hometown of Keizer.
Also turned out of office was Rep. Phil Yount, a Republican from Tigard. He lost to Suzanne Gallagher, also of Tigard, in a three-way race also featuring Brad Fudge.
More than 18,800 of Yamhill County’s 41,697 registered voters cast ballots in the local races, a turnout of just 45 percent. Cohen called that “lousy.”
Turnout in the May primary topped 51 percent in both 2000 and 2002. The latter figure was particularly impressive, as it came in a nonpresidential year. However, May turnout ran only 34 percent in 1998.
Cohen is predicting a livelier general election with stronger participation. “We are better off than we were two years ago, four years ago, six years ago,” he said, in getting out the vote.
“Computers have helped and voter registration has helped,” he said. “I’m getting a lot of calls from people, nonaffiliated people, who want to do something.”