In a year of lopsided political battles across Oregon, the Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District has become the most competitive race around -- at least when it comes to money.
Campaign finance reports filed Wednesday with the Federal Election Commission show that five weeks before the May 19 primary, Linda Peters, the Washington County Board of Commissioners chairwoman, is tied with David Wu, a Portland high-tech lawyer, for financial firepower. Peters' total receipts through March 31 were $265,806; Wu's were $271,293.
The totals conceal the fact that Peters raised about 40 percent more than Wu from individuals and political action committees. But Wu has matched Peters blow for blow in spending because he lent his campaign $100,000 early on.
The bottom line: Each has about $150,000 on hand after expenses -- enough for a big burst of television advertising and direct mail in a campaign that has yet to move beyond a circle of activists and local chambers of commerce.
Both sides said they are happy with the numbers.
"We can anticipate that we will both have aggressive paid media campaigns," said Neel Pender, Peters' campaign manager. "On a level playing field, we feel comfortable and confident where we're headed."
Wu said in a news release that his fund-raising strength shows that he has made an impact with voters and that his campaign is gaining momentum.
The seat is open because U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Furse, a Democrat, is retiring after three terms representing the politically diverse district, which stretches from Portland's west side to the Oregon Coast.
Peters has been campaigning as a consensus builder and a "strong, progressive pro-choice woman" to succeed Furse, emphasizing her nearly eight years of experience on the county commission.
Linda Murphy, Peters' finance director, said roughly $50,000 of Peters' total came from Emily's List, which directs small contributions toward candidates who support abortion rights. Big PAC support came from Nike Inc. and an assortment of labor, women's and gay rights groups.
Wu has stumped almost entirely on one issue: Increased federal aid for preschool through university education. That has garnered him the endorsement of the Oregon Education Association, which picked him over Peters, a former teacher.
Big contributors to Wu's campaign included a large number of lawyers, doctors and other professionals, and members of the Chinese American community throughout the nation. His short list of PAC givers included the home builders' industry and the electrical workers' union.
The other Democrat on the ballot, Harold Sigurdson of Seaside, raised less than $5,000, the threshold for reporting, and did not file a financial report.
The Republican primary in the 1st District is looking much more financially lopsided. Political consultant Molly Bordonaro, in her second run for the district nomination, has raised about 50 percent more money than Jon Kvistad, a councilor on the Metro regional government.
Bordonaro also has spent less than Kvistad has, leaving her with about $175,000 on hand for the final push -- about nine times the money Kvistad has in the bank.
But the race remains competitive and costly. At this point in 1996, six well-established Republican candidates together had raised about $400,000. This year, two candidates have raised a combined $500,000.
Walden draws national money
In the state's other hotly contested primary, in the 2nd Congressional District, Greg Walden holds a commanding fund-raising edge against his Republican opponents.
Walden, a radio station owner and former state legislator, is the chosen heir of retiring U.S. Rep. Bob Smith in the sprawling, mostly rural district in Eastern and Southern Oregon. Walden raised $173,189, almost three times the $60,241 raised by his closest opponent, Christian broadcaster Perry Atkinson.
Atkinson's big donors were small-business owners, farmers and retirees. His only political action committee support was $5,000 from two anti-abortion rights groups: the Campaign for Working Families and Oregon Right to Life.
By contrast, Walden's take included contributions from a large array of national PACs representing the telecommunications, health care, oil, tobacco and cattle industries; timber companies Georgia-Pacific and Weyerhaeuser; and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Walden, the former Oregon House majority leader, also appeared to have a lock on party establishment money. He received $1,000 donations from such stalwart Republican givers as lobbyist John DiLorenzo, home builder Don Morissette and restaurateur Bill McCormick. Smith's campaign fund chipped in $5,000.
Former U.S. Rep. Wes Cooley filed a campaign finance report but refused to release a copy to The Oregonian. Another Republican candidate, John Newkirk, didn't deliver his report to the newspaper but said he had lent his campaign about $18,000.
Incumbents reap benefits
Looking ahead to the Nov. 3 general election, the advantages of incumbency appear to be paying off for two Democrats.
In the 5th Congressional District, U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., has raised $451,430 since being elected in 1996, leaving her $266,609 after expenses. The lone Republican seeking the party's nomination in Hooley's district, state Sen. Marylin Shannon, didn't file a report because she hadn't passed the $5,000 threshold.
Donors also have been generous to U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat elected in 1996 to finish former Sen. Bob Packwood's term.
Wyden has raised $2.2 million -- more than 24 times the $90,124 reported by his Republican rival, state Sen. John Lim. After expenditures, Wyden had $1.6 million on hand to Lim's $28,453.
Steve Suo covers campaign finance, politics and consumers for the Public Life Team. Contact him by phone at 221-8234, by mail at 1320 S.W. Broadway, Portland, Ore. 97201, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.