Democrats on track to keep control of Oregon House, expand margins in Senate

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PORTLAND, Oregon — Democrats were on track to keep control of the Oregon House and improve their margins in the state Senate following Tuesday's election.

Election returns showed the Democrats with the upper hand in most of the close races that will determine the Legislature's partisan makeup.

With Gov. John Kitzhaber's re-election victory, all levels of state government were poised to remain in Democratic hands.

That has big implications for a wide range of legislation expected to come before lawmakers next year, including the budget, tax reform and paid-leave requirements for businesses.

The Democrats currently have a slim 16-14 majority in the Senate, and liberal ideas have met resistance from a centrist Democrat who sometimes sides with Republicans. But with Democrats likely to pick up at least one additional seat, and potentially two, the dynamics will be considerably different.

Improved Democratic margins would open the door to liberal priorities including tougher gun control measures and environmental restrictions. The gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety wasted no time signaling its intentions for the 2015 legislative session.

"Now the real work begins," Anneliese Davis, a volunteer with the group's Oregon chapter, said in a statement emailed to reporters. "When the legislative session starts next year, we will roll up our sleeves and work to pass legislation that will keep guns out of the hands of criminals and save Oregonians' lives."

Rep. Mike McLane, the top Republican in the House, warned Democrats to avoid pushing too far with their new majorities.

"If the Democrats continue to move to the left and are high-jacked by the extreme, then they will be rejected by the voters in the next election," said McLane, who was easily re-elected in his Central Oregon district. "My hope is that they are pragmatic and work towards getting real solutions for our families done."

Democrats easily won two hard-fought Senate districts. Sen. Alan Bates of Medford defeated Republican Dave Dotterrer in a rematch from four years ago. Republican Sen. Betsy Close of Albany lost her seat to Democratic Rep. Sara Gelser of Corvallis in a district that favors Democrats.

Republican Sen. Bruce Starr of Hillsboro was in a very close race against Democrat Chuck Riley.

Republicans made a big push to defeat Democratic Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem, but GOP candidate Patti Milne fell short.

On the House side, Democrats were on their way to winning nearly all the battleground races in the Portland suburbs. Republican surgeon Knute Buehler, who lost his 2012 bid for secretary of state, did win in a district that favors Democrats after spending heavily.

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