SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Looks like the wind is still at the backs of Oregon Democrats.
When the deadline to file to run for political office in Oregon passed on Tuesday, Republicans were left without a candidate for several critical offices, including the attorney general's post and several races against state House and Senate Democrats whom both sides considered vulnerable.
The party's inability to field a candidate for the attorney general's race means the Democrat who emerges from the May primary - either Rep. Greg Macpherson of Lake Oswego or Lewis & Clark law professor John Kroger - will become the state's next top lawyer.
A spokeswoman for the state GOP said Republicans recruited former party chair Kevin Mannix for the race, but he decided to run for Congress when U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-West Linn, opted not to seek re-election.
The GOP previously announced candidates in the other statewide races, treasurer, secretary of state and the U.S. Senate.
Republican leaders acknowledge that attempts to rebuild their party in Oregon will have to begin in the state House of Representatives, where Democrats enter the election season with a 31-29 majority.
The party is targeting a gain of two-to-four seats, enough to retake the majority. Democrats, however, say they plan to be competitive in at least 10 districts that are either in Republican hands or open because of a retirement or resignation.
Democrats need at least five seats to get to a three-fifths majority in the chamber, enough votes to pass new taxes. They'd need nine seats for a two-thirds majority, allowing them virtually complete control over the legislative agenda.
The GOP failed to field candidates against a handful of freshman Democrats, several of whom won their seats two years ago by narrow margins. First-term Rep. Chris Edwards of Eugene escaped a contested race, as did Rep. Jean Cowan of Newport, who won her 2006 election by only 792 votes.
Instead, Republicans appear to have pinned their hopes on knocking off some more entrenched Democrats, particularly in Washington County, a former Republican stronghold. House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna of Roseburg said the party believes it has particularly strong candidates to take on Democratic incumbents Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay, Chuck Riley of Hillsboro and Larry Galizio of Tigard-Tualatin.
As for the state Senate, Republicans are looking for a pickup of at least one seat, the one previously held by state Sen. Ben Westlund, a former Republican who switched parties midway through his term and is now running for state treasurer. Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin acknowledged that the seat will be difficult for his party to hang onto, though there are two Democratic contenders.
And Republicans fielded no candidate against the two Senate Democrats that both sides had fingered as beatable: Sen. Laurie Monnes-Anderson of Gresham and Sen. Joanne Verger of Coos Bay. Recruiting had been difficult, particularly in a chamber where newcomers would be assured of being in the minority, said Michael Gay, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli.
"It's the first time since 1998 that I won't have an opponent," Monnes-Anderson said.
Democrats throughout the Capitol were in sunny moods on Tuesday. Michele Rosolo, executive director of FuturePAC, the House Democrat's campaign recruitment and fundraising arm, reeled off a list of 10 seats, some of them vacated by retiring Republicans, others held by GOP incumbents, where she thinks her party has a solid shot in November. Rosolo said Democrats like their chances in seats vacated by retirees in Canby, the Troutdale area, Wilsonville and eastern Multnomah County/Hood River.
They are also planning challenges to a handful of Republican incumbents, including Rep. Linda Flores of Clackamas, Rep. John Lim of Gresham, Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles and Rep. Chuck Burley of Bend.
Perhaps the most intriguing race is in Lake Oswego/Southwest Portland, one of the wealthiest districts in the state. It's been represented by Macpherson, who left to run for attorney general. Though Democrats predict they'll hang onto the seat easily, Republicans are just as confident in predicting a pickup there.
And, as is traditional on the filing deadline day, there were a few last-minute surprises. Republican House hopefuls will include both a former U.S. Congressman, Jim Bunn, who filed on Tuesday for the McMinnville seat held by retiring Rep. Donna Nelson, and an ultimate fighting champion, middleweight Matt Lindland of Eagle Creek, who is running for the seat vacated by retiring Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)