Conservative challengers defeat establishment GOP candidates

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Conservatives appear to be winning the fight for the soul of the Republican Party in the Oregon House of Representatives.

Establishment candidates were defeated in three of the four House districts where the business community took on grassroots conservatives.

Rep. Jim Thompson of Dallas was defeated by Polk County GOP chair Michael Nearman, who had backing from social conservatives. Thompson's support for a ballot measure that would legalize gay marriage was unpopular on the right.

Two other conservatives, Bill Post of Keizer and Greg Barreto of Cove in Eastern Oregon, defeated their establishment-backed opponents, Barbara Jensen and John Turner.

Rep. Vic Gilliam was poised to hold onto his seat despite a well-funded challenge from conservative Marion County GOP chair David Darnell.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The fight for the soul of the Republican Party in the Oregon state House reaches a climax Tuesday, when voters in a handful of districts decide between populist and establishment candidates.

Control of the House isn't at stake that will come in November but the decisions in four staunchly Republican districts will go a long way toward defining the tone and ideology of the House GOP.

The business community pumped thousands into propping up two incumbent Republicans facing challenges from grassroots activists in their districts. Establishment forces are also battling the grassroots in two open-seat districts where the incumbent is retiring or seeking higher office.

Backed by cash from a handful of wealthy donors and interest groups, the outsiders are carrying the flag for conservatives tired of seeing Republicans advance their agenda by making deals with the Democrats who control the Legislature and governor's office.

Challengers are slamming two Republican incumbents, Reps. Jim Thompson of Dallas and Vic Gilliam of Silverton, for their votes to create a health insurance exchange, which was later branded Cover Oregon. The incumbents say they were joining a majority of House Republicans in backing a state-run exchange over a federally controlled one. But to grassroots conservatives, the votes were tantamount to supporting Obamacare, the president's health care law that's reviled on the right.

Thompson also angered some in his base when he backed a proposed ballot measure that would legalize gay marriage in Oregon. Gilliam ran afoul of conservatives with his ardent support for a bill granting driving privileges to people who can't prove they're legally in the U.S. Critics collected signatures to refer the issue to voters, and it will appear on the November ballot.

Thompson faces Michael Nearman, chairman of the Polk County GOP. Gilliam faces David Darnell, an electrician and chairman of the GOP in Marion County.

Similar dynamics are playing out in two other districts. Talk-radio host Bill Post is running against business owner Barbara Jensen to represent a district anchored in Keizer. Business, health care and other establishment interests have lined up behind Jensen, while Post has secured big financial support from groups representing gun owners and social conservatives.

In Eastern Oregon, Greg Barreto gave back a $30,000 contribution from Nevada businessman Loren Parks, a prolific conservative donor, saying it had become a distraction. He's running against John Turner, who has support from current and former Eastern Oregon legislators as well as health care interests and public-employee unions.

On the Democratic side, a number of Portland-area districts are up for grabs, though none threaten to take out incumbents or substantially shift the party's ideological balance.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press