Former Rep. David Wu's Oregon district faces special election Jan. 31

It goes without saying that all political eyes in the U.S. will be on Florida and its Republican presidential primary Jan. 31.

Even foreign correspondents are jetting to the Sunshine State to cover the fourth straight contest in the race to determine an opponent to Barack Obama.

But there will be another election Jan. 31 that just might merit some attention nationwide: the first special U.S. House election of the year, in which the seat of Democratic former Rep. David Wu will be filled in Oregon’s 1st District.

A just-completed Moore Information poll showed Republican Rob Cornilles trailing Democratic State Sen. Susan Bonamici by a margin of 46 percent to 42 percent.  The figures are much tighter than a Daily Kos survey in mid-December, which showed him trailing the Democratic nominee by a much-larger (52 percent to 41 percent) margin.

Something clearly is happening in the first special election of the presidential year.  The question is whether there is enough time to be a Western version of the dramatic Republican capture of the New York-9 House seat that had been in Democratic hands since 1922.

History and voting against GOP, but…

At first glance, the Portland-based district would seem to be terra incognita (land unknown) to Republicans.  The last Republican to represent Oregon-1 was Wendell Wyatt, who served from 1964-74.  Since Wyatt retired 38 years ago, Democrats have represented the 1st without interruption (although, more often than not, Republicans have made spirited races for the seat).

In 2010, sports entrepreneur Rob Cornilles lost to Wu by a margin of 55 percent to 43 percent.  Following embarrassing revelations that led to Wu’s resignation and the resulting special election, the 47-year-old Cornilles again became the GOP nominee and now faces the winner of a contested Democratic primary, State Sen. Susan Bonamici.

“And she’s as far to the left as [Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” Portland-area GOP precinct committeeman Douglas Harms told HUMAN EVENTS last week, describing Bonamici as a “dyed-in-the-wool tax and spend, pro-abortion liberal. Her husband was Wu’s attorney, and she went from her first state representative term to a state senate appointment to now running for Congress, all in less than five years — cronyism, much? One of the primary ‘attacks’ on her is that she never met a tax increase she didn’t like!”

Like Newt Gingrich, moderate-to-conservative GOPer Cornilles has clearly gained in the polls from his performance in televised debates. Moreover, local Republican Party volunteers such as Harms are clearly energized by his campaign and the prospect of picking up the seat — and in the process, sending a message to Obama and the Democrats that they will be ready in November.

Along with history and the voting patterns of the 1st District, money is on Bonamici’s side.  National Democrats have reportedly poured in more than $1.5 million on her behalf and the area AFL-CIO is making robocalls for the Democratic hopeful.

In spite of it all, the race is clearly growing tighter and signs are strong it will be a nip-and-tuck contest Jan. 31.  Last year, the stunning victory of Republican Bob Turner in New York’s 9th District (Queens-Brooklyn) sent political shock waves from the Big Apple to the White House.  The question now is whether another political tidal wave will be felt at the White House — this one from the West.