Ex-state legislator Bentz wins primary race to replace Oregon’s only Republican congressman

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(Reuters) – Former Republican state legislator Cliff Bentz clinched the Republican nomination to replace the party’s only member of Congress from Oregon, after emerging victorious from a crowded field of candidates, results showed early Wednesday.

Bentz, 68, secured about 31% of the votes in the Republican primary in Oregon’s 2nd congressional district on Tuesday, according to the results. His closest rivals, Knute Buehler and Jason Atkinson, also ex-state legislators, received about 22% and 20% of the votes respectively.

Buehler, who was considered the favorite in the race, congratulated Bentz. “Cliff is a good man and a strong legislator,” Buehler said in a statement, adding that Bentz’s deep roots in the district “will serve us all well in Congress.”

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The sprawling, largely rural region of eastern and southern Oregon is heavily Republican, so the winner of the party primary has a good chance of becoming the area’s next member of Congress.

The retirement of Representative Greg Walden had set off a fierce competition, with 11 Republicans and five Democrats competing to succeed the moderate Republican, who had served the district since 1999.

On the Democratic side, Alex Spenser had 32 percent of the vote and a narrow lead over Nick Heuertz, with 31 percent.

Oregon has been a vote-by-mail state for two decades. Due to COVID-19 lockdowns, much of the battle for the congressional seat was fought on the airwaves and social media.

Buehler, a former gubernatorial candidate, had been the top fundraiser, collecting $1.3 million to Bentz’s $466,000. But Buehler’s support for abortion rights as well as his past criticism of Republican President Donald Trump earned him enemies within the party.

Bentz last year was among several Republicans who walked out of the state legislature to deny Democrats a quorum and block a climate change bill.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington and Kanishka Singh and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Pravin Char and Stev Orlofsky

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