The campaign for state House District 32 was the most expensive in Oregon.
Tillamook Mayor Suzanne Weber and Debbie Boothe-Schmidt, a former trial assistant, raised more than $2.7 million. Weber prevailed over Boothe-Schmidt 54% to 46%, the first Republican to win the district covering Clatsop and parts of Tillamook and Washington counties in nearly two decades.
The Republican and Democratic campaign arms believe it was the most money raised for a state House race in history. They described a record-breaking influx of contributions driven by the competitiveness of an open seat combined with a plethora of races vying for air time in the Portland media market.
State Rep. Tiffiny Mitchell, a freshman Democrat from Astoria, moved to Washington state and did not run for reelection, giving Republicans one of their best chances to flip a district Democrats controlled since 2002.
Trey Rosser is executive director of Evergreen Oregon PAC, which raises money for House Republicans. The North Coast race was the most expensive he remembers since Democrat Janelle Bynum defeated Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in state House District 51 covering Clackamas and Happy Valley in 2016 at a cost of nearly $2 million.
Weber raised more than $1.2 million, including more than $700,000 from Evergreen Oregon. Rosser said the North Coast race competed for air time in the Portland market with congressional and gubernatorial elections targeting voters in southwest Washington state; another congressional race in southern Oregon; and numerous other state House and Senate races.
Boothe-Schmidt raised more than $1.5 million, including more than $550,000 from Future PAC, the primary fundraising arm of state House Democrats.
“Whether you’re in Salem or the Portland suburbs, or even the North Coast, you still have all of these races that are in the most expensive media market in the state,” a Future PAC representative said. “And they’re all competing for air time.”
Future PAC said their ad buyer had never seen TV get so expensive in the final two weeks of a campaign.
“If (Republicans) spend a lot, we spend a lot,” they said. “If we spend a lot, they spend a lot. And it just kind of turns into an arms race, basically … We were both trying to read each other, read the tea leaves of what the other side was doing.”
Democrats were trying to hold on to supermajorities in the House and Senate, making open seats all the more strategic.
Democratic state Rep. Caddy McKeown chose not to run again for her seat in House District 9 around Coos Bay, creating another competitive district on the coast.
Republican Gerald “Boomer” Wright defeated Democrat Cal Mukumoto 57% to 42%. But the race cost just over $800,000, less than one-third of House District 32. Rosser and the representative from Future PAC both said the race there was considered less competitive and less expensive to advertise on TV.
“They’re in the Eugene broadcast market, which is like half as much” as Portland, the representative from Future PAC said.
The vast majority of money coming into the North Coast race came from interests based in Portland and Salem flooding the battleground.
Rosser argued that Weber, who was primarily backed by business, raised more local donations than any other Republican ever has in House District 32, and more than any state Republican candidate this election.
The representative from Future PAC argued that Boothe-Schmidt’s donations, largely from unions, came from a conglomeration of workers, many of whom live in the district, and are fundamentally different from the corporations that backed Weber.
Oregon voters in November overwhelmingly approved Measure 107, which allows the Legislature, local governments or voters to place limits on campaign contributions and spending, require the disclosure of campaign financing and identify the donors behind campaign advertisements.