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Oregon's newest Congressional district is a toss-up as Republicans make gains

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The state of Oregon has long been a safe blue haven for Democrats. But this year Republicans are threatening upsets in races across the state. Recently, the Cook Political Report shifted Oregon's newest congressional district to a toss-up as the Republican candidate there gains momentum. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has more.

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CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: On a rainy Saturday, about two dozen Democratic volunteers squeezed into a small office in a Portland, Ore., suburb.

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ANDREA SALINAS: Thank you all so much. I consider this soggy sock season here in Oregon, when we're all out there canvassing and making sure we're talking to voters.

GRISALES: That's Democratic candidate Andrea Salinas, addressing canvassers at her Tualatin, Ore., office for an increasingly tight race in the state's new 6th Congressional District. It runs southwest of Portland into vast wine country and past the state capital of Salem. It also boasts the state's largest concentration of Latino residents. Voter Yolanda Welch says, in her native Spanish, she relates to Salinas' roots.

YOLANDA WELCH: (Speaking Spanish).

GRISALES: Welch says Salinas, a former long-time state lawmaker, can respond to rising inflation. Switching to English, Welch says, as a working caretaker, she's turned off by the GOP.

WELCH: I'm not like the Republicans. They have so much money. I don't (laughter).

GRISALES: The district's GOP candidate, Mike Erickson, is a wealthy supply chain executive who self-funded much of his campaign. So far, both sides have raised more than $2 million as Erickson gains with rural voters, while Salinas commands support in urban and suburban areas. And recently, a House Republican Leadership PAC dumped another $800,000 in ads into the district.

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MIKE ERICKSON: I think the people of Oregon are just fed up with what they've been seeing for the last few years under Democratic leadership. And now, I think people are just holding their - you know, wits' end. And so I think it's a big change happening in Oregon like never before.

GRISALES: That's Erickson, who declined an on-air interview with NPR, but told Fox News that Oregonians have tired of inflation and a long-running homelessness crisis. Erickson is a perennial Republican candidate and lost several previous election runs, but sees this as his chance to get to Washington.

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GRISALES: At a coffee shop in the town of McMinnville, Republican Chris Chenoweth says despite those setbacks, timing is finally on Erickson's side.

CHRIS CHENOWETH: I think Mike's going to win.

GRISALES: Chenoweth, who sits on McMinnville's City Council, located in a rural pocket of Oregon's sixth, says national issues are energizing the district's Republicans.

CHENOWETH: You start looking at your bread-and-butter kitchen table issues, it's headwinds against the Democrats for this election cycle.

GRISALES: Salinas, who won a bitter Democratic primary marking one of the country's most expensive races, remains bullish as she talks more about the economy and other top worries.

SALINAS: I don't have to be the flag bearer for the Democratic Party. I want to be the flag bearer for the people of the 6th Congressional District - right? - and really addressing their needs 'cause I know that people are suffering right now, and that is what motivates me to do the work.

GRISALES: Oregon's 6th District will tell a larger national story about how far the Republican Party's reach truly goes this election cycle. Claudia Grisales, NPR News, Oregon.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRAKE SONG, "DUPPY FREESTYLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.