Val Hoyle beat a crowded field of Democratic rivals in a seat held since 1987 by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio. Hoyle will face off against Alek Skarlatos, who lost to DeFazio in the general election in 2020 and ran unopposed in the 2022 GOP primary.
Oregon’s sprawling 4th Congressional District, which runs from the state’s southern border, up Interstate 5 through the college towns of Eugene and Corvallis, and west to the coast, has been a safe Democratic seat for decades. DeFazio had never earned less than 54% of the district’s votes in a general election until facing off against Skarlatos in 2020. DeFazio won that last contest with 51% of the vote.
Both parties are eyeing the seat. House Republicans need to net five seats in the 435-member chamber to win back the majority they lost in 2018.
Skarlatos, an Army National Guard veteran, gained some notoriety in 2015 when he and two others thwarted a terrorist attack on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The soldier-turned-politician went on to play himself in a Clint Eastwood film about the event.
After picking up DeFazio’s endorsement and out-fundraising the rest of the field, Hoyle was widely expected to pick up the nomination. Besides Hoyle, only one other candidate had ever held elected office.
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Besides snagging DeFazio’s endorsement, Hoyle also earned the trust of Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, firmly establishing herself as the front-runner.
“The establishment is very clearly behind Hoyle,” Neil O’Brian, a political science professor at the University of Oregon, said. “So I don't know if it's DeFazio that matters or if it's just that she's been crowned by the establishment that will matter a little bit more.”
Hoyle was the most recognizable candidate in the eight-way race. She is Oregon’s commissioner of labor and industries and was a member of the Oregon House of Representatives from 2009 to 2017. Hoyle was the speaker of the House from 2013 to 2015, when she resigned to run for secretary of state.
The redistricting process following the 2020 census entrenched the Democrats' control over the district, an event that gave DeFazio confidence he could retire, according to Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who represents the state’s 3rd District.
“It makes it easier for Peter because he doesn’t want to abandon his district,” Blumenauer told a local radio station in December 2021. “The [new] district is one that a thoughtful Democrat will win.”
Despite DeFazio’s decadeslong control of the seat, FiveThirtyEight had the 4th District leaning in Republicans' favor by plus 1 in 2020. Following redistricting, the district is now a Democratic plus 9 seat, according to the election forecasters. The new map gives Democrats more control over the state, as it includes three new safe Democratic districts and removes two competitive ones, according to the outlet.
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The 2022 contest was just the fourth Democratic primary since 1986. The previous contests, one each from 2016 to 2020, resulted in DeFazio blowing out single challengers.
Tuesday’s results aren’t necessarily indicative of how contests will turn out in November. Since Oregon instituted its “Motor Voter” law in January 2016, the number of unaffiliated voters has continued to grow. As of March 2022, the state has more unaffiliated voters than Democrats or Republicans. However, due to Oregon’s closed primary system, those voters were locked out of the process, and they cannot cast a ballot until the general election in November.