Ore. pols begin hunt for Wu's replacement

By Nigel Duara

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, July 26 2011 9:26 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this March 7, 2011 file photo, Rep David Wu, D-Ore., speaks at a luncheon in Hillsboro, Ore. Wu faced increased pressure Monday after House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called for an ethics investigation over an 18-year-old woman's claim of an "unwanted sexual encounter" with him. Pelosi sent a letter Monday to leaders of the House Ethics Committee, saying an investigation is warranted.

Don Ryan, File, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. — After a weekend of near-total silence, the Oregon political establishment peeked from behind the thunderhead enveloping Rep. David Wu long enough to castigate his decision-making and drum up interest in at least three candidates who have expressed an interest in taking his place.

On Tuesday, Wu announced his plan to resign, days after The Oregonian newspaper published a story saying the seven-term Democrat had an aggressive sexual encounter with a friend's teenage daughter last year.

Between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C., Wu's chief of staff spoke by phone with the chiefs of staff of U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley. According to a person with knowledge of the meeting, Wyden and Merkley's representatives said they would call for Wu's resignation at noon. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were private.

Shortly after, Wu's spokesman announced the congressman's plan to resign, beating the pair of senators by 40 minutes.

"The time has come to hand on the privilege of high office," Wu said in a statement. "I cannot care for my family the way I wish while serving in Congress and fighting these very serious allegations."

Within three hours, the furrowed brows of the state's political machinery came to bear on the embattled congressman.

The state Democratic party revealed that its officers had voted unanimously on Monday night to ask Wu to resign. Wyden and Merkley's offices sent out a joint statement, urging Wu to step aside. And the Oregon GOP did a jig on Wu's political grave, saying his actions are "throwback" to the time when Democrats dominated Congress.

"He's out of touch with voters in the 1st District, and this gives us a chance to pick up a seat," said state GOP spokesman Greg Leo.

Oregon's 1st Congressional District stretches from the Pacific Ocean to west Portland and takes in all or part of five counties: Clatsop, Columbia, Washington, Yamhill and Multnomah.

Wu's announcement allowed the candidate field to take shape.

Bruce Starr, a Republican state senator widely viewed as a viable moderate in the Democratic-leaning district, said Tuesday he will not run, while businessman Rob Miller said he is "seriously considering" a race and will make a decision within days.

Miller is president of a Portland company that makes preserves and jellies. He joins Democrats Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner, and state Rep. Brad Witt as contenders for Wu's job.

Some party members expect a state senator, Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton, to join them shortly. She didn't return calls for comment.

Republicans touted two Tea Party candidates from last year's Republican primary election, Portland residents Doug Keller and John Kuzmanich. Each embraced the movement that played a pivotal role in the national congressional campaigns. Combined, they got more votes than the establishment candidate, Republican Rob Cornilles, but neither got enough to beat him for the nomination.

The sitting legislators Republicans suggested as viable challengers are two Hillsboro first-termers, Reps. Katie Eyre Brewer and Shawn Lindsay.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said he plans to hold a special election to replace Wu that will include primary elections for nominating candidates from the parties. He must first receive Wu's formal resignation letter.

The lines in the 1st Congressional District were redrawn by the state Legislature, giving Republicans a few more votes. But the change won't apply to the race to replace Wu, according to the state Secretary of State's Office.

Talk Tuesday turned to the future, where Democrats still hold an advantage. Wu wasn't seriously challenged after his first election, and Democrats maintain a 12 percentage point voter-registration advantage.

"I'm saddened and relieved," said Karen Packer, chairwoman of the Washington County Democratic organization. "The new candidates on the Democratic side will be of a very different nature than Congressman Wu.

"I would hope the constituents in the district would be able to separate that and go by the person."

Nigel Duara can be reached on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nigelduara

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