Mid-valley voters stood by their state legislators on Tuesday, opting to send four incumbent lawmakers back to Salem.
Unofficial results showed two-term Sen. Frank Morse holding off challenger Dan Rayfield in Senate District 8 in a hotly contested race.
On the House side, Sara Gelser defeated Rose Cook in District 16, Andy Olson beat Bud Laurent in District 16 and Jim Thompson cruised to re-election over Wesley W. West in District 23.
Rayfield, a lawyer who lives in Corvallis, made his first foray into politics a memorable one with a hard-fought campaign in Senate District 8, which straddles Linn and Benton counties.
After building name recognition with a door-to-door canvassing effort, the Democratic newcomer launched an aggressive and well-financed ad campaign that sharply defined his candidacy while calling Morse’s reputation as a moderate Republican into question.
That backfired with some voters, who saw the ads as too negative, but struck a chord with others, who thought Morse had gotten a free ride on environmental concerns, education funding and other issues.
Morse fought back with a late advertising blast of his own, decrying Rayfield’s tactics while defending his voting record in Salem. In the end, voters decided to stick with Morse.
“It’s an honor to serve,” Morse said of the preliminary results Tuesday night. “Now it’s time to come together to solve some of our problems.”
Rayfield said he was proud to have won Benton County back for the Democrats and that he would definitely seek the Senate seat again in the next election.
“As I told Frank Morse, you’re only delaying the inevitable,” he said. “Win or lose, I’m running again in four years.”
After being appointed in 2005 after the resignation of Kelly Wirth, Democrat Gelser won election the following year and has now firmly established herself in House District 16, which covers Corvallis and Philomath.
Republican Cook, a retired school secretary now serving her second term on the Philomath School Board, faced an uphill battle in the heavily Democratic district.
“I knew that all along,” Cook said Tuesday night. “It’s a tough district. We’re outnumbered about three to one.”
Gelser said she was glad to put the campaign behind her and get back to work in the Legislature.
“Across the state, it’s a difficult year for Democrats,” she said. “It points to the need for Oregonians to get back to work and for Oregon to get back on track.”
In District 15, which includes portions of Linn and Benton counties, Republican Olson held onto the seat he’s occupied since 2005. Voters sent the retired state trooper and Albany resident back for a fourth term, turning aside a challenge from Democrat Laurent, a former marine biologist from Corvallis.
Republican District 23 Rep. Thompson of Dallas faced little more than token opposition from Democratic challenger West, a Sheridan resident who did little campaigning. The sprawling rural district stretches from Sheridan in the north to Harrisburg in the south and covers portions of five counties, including Philomath, Blodgett, Alsea and Monroe but skirting Corvallis and Adair Village.
Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or email@example.com.