Bonamici wins special election for Wu’s Oregon congressional seat

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PORTLAND — Democrats will hold onto an Oregon congressional seat left vacant when David Wu resigned in a sex scandal.

Democrat Suzanne Bonamici defeated Republican Rob Cornilles Tuesday night. With 75 percent of the vote counted, Bonamici led Cornilles 55 percent to 38 percent.

“I am truly honored to represent such an important and diverse district,” Bonamici told cheering supporters in downtown Portland. “And in that representation, I will always put people before politics.”

National Democrats poured more than $1 million into the Portland-area district, determined not to drop another safe seat after losing a New York district seat left vacant by Anthony Weiner, who acknowledged sending provocative text messages and resigned.

Wu stepped down from Congress in August after a newspaper reported that the 18-year-old daughter of a campaign donor accused the seven-term Democrat of making an unwanted sexual advance at a Thanksgiving dinner. His resignation capped months of reports about Wu’s bizarre behavior that included widely panned photos of the congressman wearing a tiger costume.

Bonamici, a former state senator who gave up her seat to run for Congress, emphasized her experience in the legislature and as a lawyer working on consumer protection issues at the Federal Trade Commission. She talked about controlling the national debt, but stuck mostly to traditional Democratic themes like preventing cuts to Social Security and Medicare.

Late in the race, Cornilles tried to tar Bonamici with the scandal that took out Wu.

Cornilles, owner of a consulting firm that does business with sports franchises, promoted his business experience. He ran toward the center and downplayed his Republican affiliation, but he still faced an uphill climb in a district where Democrats outnumber Republicans and President Barack Obama enjoyed significant support in the 2008 campaign.

Democrats and their allies pummeled him with television ads that attacked his business credentials and tried to align him with the Tea Party.

Cornilles said the negative ads took their toll.

“I think we did the best we could with the resources that we had,” Cornilles told The Associated Press. “It’s obviously difficult to compete with the amount of negativity that was showered on me over the course of the last six or seven weeks.”

Cornilles made his second bid for the seat. He lost to Wu by 13 percentage points in 2010.

The district includes downtown Portland and the suburbs in Washington County, as well as smaller communities in Clatsop, Columbia and Yamhill counties.

Preliminary results showed Bonamici leading by 13 points in Washington County, where nearly two out of every three voters live. She was leading in all counties except Yamhill, where Cornilles had a 6-point edge.

Bonamici won’t get much of a break before gearing up for the next campaign. She’ll face a May 15 primary before the general election on Nov. 6.

Cornilles said he wants to spend time with his family before deciding whether he’ll make a third bid for the seat.