1st District candidates face off in Portland

1st District candidates face off in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - Amid the thickening partisan rancor of the midterm general elections, Oregon's 1st District offers something different. Namely, the two men who want to represent it don't seem much inclined to toss the kind of barbs in which some of their counterparts in the state have gladly indulged.

To be sure, Friday's debate between Rep. David Wu and challenger Rob Cornilles on the Portland State University campus had its tense moments, but its tenor was heavier on policy than politics.

Cornilles said he can create jobs in the state by limiting federal spending and cutting regulations. He compared his candidacy to his experience as a small-business owner, saying he can stick to a budget and rein in expenses.

"I used to promote the L.A. Clippers. I can promote Oregon," said Cornilles, owner of a sports marketing firm, to laughs from the 200 people in attendance.

He relied heavily on examples: "Sarah in St. Helens" complained to him of excessive paperwork when her restaurant opened. "Diana in Beaverton" told him she was afraid of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts limiting the growth of her women's clothing store.

Wu, by contrast, said spending now is crucial to future job creation, if the money is correctly spent on education and research. The six-term incumbent repeated his assertion that Bush-era "easy money and rampant speculation" put the nation in a financial hole from which it is just now beginning to recover. Reauthorizing the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans in December, he said, would mark a return to irresponsible spending.

"When Rob talked about the mountain of debt that we are piling up, that mountain does not yet include the $700 billion that would be added to it if his proposal for America were to prevail," Wu said. "That is borrowed money."

Wu has said that the health care reform bill should be viewed as an engine for job creation and pay equality - especially among minorities and the poor - and added Friday that spending on research should be viewed the same way.

"We cannot have a rising tide that lifts only yachts," Wu said, noting that investment in community colleges can help break the "skills barrier" for high-wage jobs.

Cornilles has hammered Wu on Congressional spending, but Wu responded Friday that stimulus money kept the country out of a deeper recession - or a depression - while the health care reform bill laid the foundation for job creation.

According to their latest disclosure reports in July, Cornilles trailed Wu in fundraising by more than $370,000 in cash on hand. Wu has fended off five previous challenges - and won in 2008 by a landslide - since winning the seat in 1998.

Cornilles said small businesses and the upper strata of the middle class have been "demonized" by Democrats. That message could play to the suburban voters that Oregon State University political science professor Bill Lunch said are crucial to winning the 1st District, where Democrats maintain a registration advantage of more than 50,000 voters.

"The fundamental thing that Republicans need to do is to attract back suburban voters," Lunch said. "The key to the kingdom in the 1st (District) and really, statewide, lies with suburban voters, particularly suburban women."

Republicans have lost nearly 2,000 voters since 2008, and the district has more than 2,700 more independent voters than it did two years ago.

Cornilles offered to debate Wu in every county in the 1st District, something Wu called a "very generous offer" but didn't commit to it. His spokeswoman said Wu would be confirming his schedule "in the coming weeks."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.