Cornilles, Bonamici to face off in January for vacated U.S. House seat

Cornilles, Bonamici to face off in January for vacated U.S. House seat »Play Video
Democrat Suzanne Bonamici and Republican Rob Cornilles celebrate their victories in their respective primaries Tuesday Nov. 8, 2011. They will face off in a January general election to replace former Congressman David Wu. (AP Photos)

Election Results

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Voters in a Portland-area congressional district nominated Democratic state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici and Republican business consultant Rob Cornilles on Tuesday in a special primary to replace Rep. David Wu, who resigned following a sex scandal.

The decision kicks off a campaign that both parties expect to be hard-fought and expensive.

With 78 percent of precincts reporting, Cornilles had 73 percent of the Republican vote. Bonamici had support from 66 percent of Democrats.

Democrats have a solid 13-point registration advantage in the nation's only vacant congressional district and have held the seat for decades. But Republicans, coming off an improbable special election victory in New York last September, think they have a shot to bolster their majority in the U.S. House with Oregon's Jan. 31 special election.

Cornilles is a sports-business consultant from the Portland suburb Tualatin. He faced little opposition for the Republican nomination and focused his sights on the general election, noting he'll need support from independents and Democrats to score a victory.

Cornilles has downplayed his Republican affiliation, positioning himself as a centrist candidate with an independent streak. Democrats have tried vigorously to tear apart that image and portray him as an extremist and tea party candidate. He hopes to convince voters that his experience owning a business gives him the background needed to help jumpstart the economy.

"I feel like the first half is over, we're in halftime right now, can't wait for the second half to start," Cornilles said Tuesday night after his victory. "I expect some great dialogue between the two candidates, a chance for us to let the voters know where we're the same and where we're different."

Bonamici is a lawyer who worked on consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission before going into private practice. She sells herself as a champion of the middle class and a legislator skilled at driving her agenda.

"I think that really what people have been looking for is the type of work that I've been doing — standing up for middle-class families, small businesses and consumers," Bonamici said. "That's incredibly important at this time in history.

The Democratic primary also included Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian of Beaverton and state Rep. Brad Witt of Clatskanie, who launched campaigns before Bonamici but struggled to keep momentum after she entered the race.

Wu resigned in August after he was accused of making an unwanted sexual advance on an 18-year-old woman. The allegations followed months of reports about his bizarre behavior that concerned some staff members and supporters — including taking an unknown medication from a campaign donor and emailing photos of himself dressed in a tiger suit.

The general election began almost immediately after the polls closed Tuesday. Cornilles compared Bonamici to Wu, who also is a lawyer, calling her "more of the same."

"Our last congressman was a lawyer turned politician, and the first district is not better because of it," Cornilles said. "The number one issue facing this district right now is the economy and job creation. It's not about writing fine print."

Democrats called Cornilles a tea party sympathizer and sought to downplay his business experience.

"Make no mistake — Oregonians cannot trust Rob Cornilles," state Democratic Party Chair Meredith Wood Smith said in a statement.

The district is considered the economic engine of Oregon. It includes downtown Portland and major operations for Fortune 500 companies in suburban Washington County. It also includes rural areas in Oregon wine country and stretches to the Pacific coast.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.