Progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner Triumphs Over Big Pharma Ally Kurt Schrader

Progressive candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner has won the Democratic primary in Oregon’s fifth district, ousting conservative Democrat Rep. Kurt Schrader, who worked with fellow conservatives in the party to undermine Democrats’ agenda last year.

With over 80 percent of votes counted, numerous outlets, including The Associated Press, have called the race for McLeod-Skinner, making her the Democratic House candidate in the blue-leaning district that includes southern Portland suburbs and Salem. With about 57 percent of the vote, the progressive won by a nearly 15-point margin over Schrader, who she’s previously dubbed as the “[Sen.] Joe Manchin of the House.”

“Our battle to take on corruption so that Congress works for working people — not big corporations — is just getting started,” McLeod-Skinner said when the AP called the race last week. “When they see me in the halls of Congress, they will see you.”

The primary was conducted on May 17, but the results have been slow to roll in due to issues with barcodes on the ballots which prohibited them from being counted by a machine.

McLeod-Skinner’s win is a major victory for progressive organizations and lawmakers who backed her, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and the Working Families Party, as well as several major labor unions.

McLeod-Skinner “took on one of the ringleaders of the organized effort to destroy the Build Back Better [Act] and with it child care, elder care, affordable housing, and a plan for a livable planet,” the Working Families Party wrote in celebration of her win.

Indeed, McLeod-Skinner’s win is a rebuke to Schrader’s conservatism and his open allyship with Big Pharma, which rallied behind him in the primary race; with the help of the industry, Schrader’s campaign spent over $3.4 million to fend off McLeod-Skinner, or at least three times the amount that McLeod-Skinner’s campaign spent.

During negotiations for the Build Back Better Act last year, Schrader handed the pharmaceutical industry a huge win when he joined two other Democrats in opposing Democrats’ plan to implement a measure to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices — despite the vast popularity of the measure among voters. Then, after successfully watering down the plan, Schrader helped to separate the Build Back Better Act from the bipartisan infrastructure bill, essentially killing the Build Back Better Act altogether.

Schrader likely knew that his vote against drug price reforms would look bad to voters; in April, he claimed that he actually supports the Medicare plan. “I’m making a real difference for their owners too — taking on drug companies to lower insulin costs, making sure Medicare can negotiate lower drug prices, expanding Pell grants and career and technical education,” he said in a misleading 30-second ad. “And I’m leading the fight to get big money out of politics.”

But, as McLeod-Skinner has pointed out, Schrader has stood in the way of Democrats on the drug pricing plan and more, “help[ing] to create the situation that Democrats are in now,” she told CNN.

Schrader has taken other steps that stand in stark contrast to the majority of the party’s agenda that likely hurt his campaign; last year, he voted against the American Rescue Plan stimulus bill, saying that he objected to the provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. He also said that President Donald Trump’s second impeachment was akin to a “lynching,” which he later apologized for after facing backlash.