Jamie McLeod-Skinner M.R.P. ’95 won the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th congressional district against fellow Cornellian and 7-term incumbent Kurt Schrader ’73 back in May.
The 54.56 percent to 45.42 percent victory against Schrader marked the first time in 42 years an incumbent member of Oregon’s congressional delegation had lost a primary election. If elected, Mcleod-Skinner would become the first openly LGBTQ+ person to serve in Oregon’s congressional delegation.
Mcleod-Skinner emphasized the importance of building relationships, trust and collective grassroots support. She said it helped her run as a lesbian in rural areas.
“There are so many folks who said, I’ve never voted for [a] Democrat before, but you’re just talking common sense. So showing that respect, listening, talking about solutions, staying away from buzzwords, really has a powerful response for folks,” McLeod-Skinner said.
She had previously won the Democratic nomination for Oregon’s 2nd congressional district in 2018, but lost the general election to 9-term incumbent Greg Walden. McLeod-Skinner later served as the city manager of Phoenix, Oregon, and in 2020, was hired as the interim city manager of Talent, Oregon after a devastating forest fire for city recovery. Now she is also an emergency preparedness coordinator for Oregon’s Department of Human Services.
“Throughout the conversations I’ve had in the stumps and with voters, we are in a time of crisis: Working families trying to get back on their feet, post-COVID, our climate where our homes are literally burning down, the end of democracy,” McLeod-Skinner said “But we are also in a time of hope. If we create, establish and work together towards a shared vision of moving forward, then it is a time of hope.”
McLeod-Skinner attributed part of her success as a rural Democrat to recent changes to the boundaries of Oregon’s 5th district, including the addition of Central Deschutes County where McLeod-Skinner outperformed by 9400 votes.
“[In 2018] I traveled the equivalent of 15 times across our country, just throughout Oregon, showing up and meeting with folks especially in rural areas,” McLeod-Skinner said. “So I have a real brand and reputation of showing up, listening and connecting with rural folks, being a rural Democrat myself and really building up a strong base.”
While Schrader has been facing criticism from progressive Democrats as too conservative, major media narratives ascribe McLeod-Skinner’s success to her progressive approach.
McLeod-Skinner rejects the claim and regards it as the framing that her opponent used. She says she is just working on the fundamental things Oregonians want, regardless of party affiliations or progressive levels. Providing affordable healthcare is one of them.
“In talking to conservative Republicans in the most rural parts of Oregon, people are talking about wanting health care for their families, wanting to make sure they can afford it,” McLeod-Skinner said, “… I even talked to moderates, moderates want reasonable drug prices. Conservatives, and independents want reasonable drug prices. That’s not an R&D issue. That’s not even a progressive versus a moderate type issue within the party.”
Looking back on her time at Cornell, McLeod-Skinner thinks the University gave her the confidence to make decisions and find solutions, as she came out of a rural background. She discovered the possibility of connecting her transition from Cornell to the power structure to her humble roots and representation of working people.
“Hillary Clinton came to speak on campus back then; the Attorney General, Janet Reno, I heard her speak, and it was very influential. Also, my professors talked about the theory of politics and the individual perspectives that people had,” McLeod-Skinner said.
McLeod-Skinner will face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the November general election.
“I’m running against someone who is very regressive, dog whistling and has very extremist views that are so unhealthy and will break what we have,” McLeod-Skinner said. “And that’s why I’ve got this grassroots support, because it’s really the sense of bringing people together and a positive focus on the future.”