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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Parties Jockey To Win Control Of Oregon Legislature

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Chris Lehman
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Northwest News Network

You need 16 votes to pass a bill in the Oregon Senate. Democrats control the Oregon Senate, 16-14, but one of their members often votes with Republicans on social and environmental issues.

That leaves Democrats hoping upon hope for one more seat. And they think Sara Gelser, a four-term state representative, is one of their best chances to pick up that seat this November.

As a state representative, Gelser has served the more liberal part of the Willamette Valley Senate district -- home to Oregon State University -- since 2007. Now she's reaching out to voters in the more blue-collar portion of the district.

But she said the people in both halves of the district are interested in the same things.

"Quality education that meets the needs of all students, access to affordable higher education, freezing tuition costs,” Gelser said. “The right for people to make their own decisions, whether that's who they marry, or when and whether they have children."

To win, Gelser will have to knock off Republican Betsy Close. Close is technically the incumbent, but this is the first time she'll face voters as a state senator. That's because she was appointed to fill the remainder of the term of another senator who resigned.

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Credit Betsy Close campaign photo
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Betsy Close campaign photo
Gelser is facing Republican incumbent Betsy Close.

Close did not respond to our repeated requests for an interview. She's running ads that portray her as a bipartisan dealmaker.

In one ad, Close says, “If we can just put partisanship aside and reach across party lines, there is so much that we can accomplish. That's what I'll be working on."

Her critics point to her voting record and say she's one of the legislature's most conservative members. A Gelser ad calls Close, “Far right, all wrong for us."

Voters in Albany and Corvallis can expect to see plenty more of those ads between now and election day.

It’s not the only Oregon Senate race that could come down to the wire. But Pacific University political analyst Jim Moore says he doesn't expect the balance of power to shift.

"The odds are it's going to stay a 16-14 Senate for the Democrats,” he said. “But we're not quite sure which Democrat or which Republican in those districts is going to be actually sitting in the legislature.”

Moore expects similar results in the Oregon House: some seats will change parties, but he thinks Democrats will hold on to their majority.

But one thing is certain: there'll be a lot of new faces in Salem. Nearly one in five lawmakers who were on the floor during the last full-length session won't be back in the next one.