With Wu Through, Who's Up?

Twenty-four hours after he announced he would not seek reelection, embattled Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) made headlines with another announcement: that, after voting to raise the debt ceiling in a few days, he would resign from Congress and thus set the stage for the fourth special election for the House this year.

Small wonder.  The recent charges that he had had sex with the teenage daughter of a supporter in 2010 has led to an Ethics Committee probe and, perhaps, prosecution on criminal charges.  The latest bombshell came on the heels of an earlier admission of treatment for mental disorders by the 56-year-old congressman and reports of his bizarre behavior (including sending out photographs of him dressed in a tiger costume).  But the latest salvo was the most serious.  With a KATU (Portland) News poll showing 75% of Wu’s constituents wanted him out now, and the state’s two Democratic senators (Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley) calling on him to resign, the seven-termer finally decided to quit rather than fight.

The timing and the nature of the resulting special election depend largely on Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.  Should he call the election within 80 days of the 1st District seat (Portland) becoming vacant, there would be a special primary and special election.  However, if Kitzhaber waits eighty days, there would only be a special election, and the parties would select their nominee through convention or caucus.

Even before Wu’s exit, there was no shortage of Democratic candidates.  State Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie and State Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian, both committed liberals, had been running.  Now others are likely to get into the sudden special election, among them state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici and former State Sen. Ryan Deckert (now president of the Oregon Business Association). 

Although Democrats in the 1st District have nearly nearly 50,000 more registered voters than Republicans, and have held the House seat without interruption since 1974, Republicans are expected to field a strong candidate and wage a strong race.  The two names most mentioned as candidates are conservatives who ran the impressive campaigns against Wu: Molly Bordonaro, longtime associate of George W. Bush and former U.S. ambassador to Malta, who lost to Wu by a tight 50% to 47% the last time the seat was open (1998), and sporting goods entrepreneur Rob Cornilles, who raised $607,000 and held the incumbent to a 52% to 42% margin last year.