1992 United States Senate election in Oregon

The 1992 United States Senate election in Oregon was held on November 3, 1992. Incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Bob Packwood won re-election to his fifth term. As of 2019, this is the last time a Republican won the Class 3 U.S. Senate seat in Oregon.

United States Senate election in Oregon, 1992

← 1986 November 3, 1992 1996 (special) →
  RWPackwood.jpg Les AuCoin in 1986 (cropped).jpg
Nominee Bob Packwood Les AuCoin
Party Republican Democratic
Popular vote 717,455 639,851
Percentage 52.1% 46.5%

Results of the 1992 United States Senate election in Oregon by county.svg
County Results

Packwood:      50-60%      60-70%      70-80%

AuCoin:      40–50%      50–60%

U.S. Senator before election

Bob Packwood

Elected U.S. Senator

Bob Packwood


As the election season got underway, analysts from both major parties predicted that Packwood would have one of the toughest seats to defend in what was anticipated to be a volatile election year.[1] Packwood was regarded as one of the nation's "most powerful elected officials"[2] with "extraordinary political instincts."[3] But the state's largest newspaper, The Oregonian, had described AuCoin (Packwood's presumed main challenger) as having "persistence, imagination and clout [that] have made him the most powerful congressman in Oregon and one of the most influential members from the Northwest."[4]

Democratic primaryEdit


For AuCoin, however, first came the Democratic primary. He faced Portland attorney Joe Wetzel and Bend businessman Harry Lonsdale in what became a "brutal, bitter"[5] contest.[6] Lonsdale, who had run a close race against incumbent Mark Hatfield for Oregon's other Senate seat in 1990, emerged as AuCoin's principal rival; Wetzel, who criticized Packwood and AuCoin as long-term, ineffective members of Congress,[7] trailed throughout the race, and was not invited to an April debate sponsored by the City Club of Portland.[8] Lonsdale took on "the Les AuCoin-Mark Hatfield-Bob Packwood coalition" as his primary cause, stating "I consider Les AuCoin a good man who has been corrupted by PAC money over the years".[9]

In a race the Seattle Times called "as negative as many voters can remember,"[5] Lonsdale attacked AuCoin as "corrupt"[5] and tied to the timber industry.[10] Lonsdale's environmental credentials also came under scrutiny,[11] and AuCoin noted Lonsdale's reversal of support for nuclear power and belated opposition to the re-opening of Trojan Nuclear Power Plant.[12] AuCoin turned accusations of undue influence back on Lonsdale, pointing out that his company (Bend Research) had received millions in federal defense contracts.[13]

Even during the primary, Packwood and AuCoin traded barbs on various issues.[14] Packwood joined Lonsdale in criticizing AuCoin for his involvement in what was reported as a rash of check-bouncing among members of Congress; AuCoin characterized the issue as a series of mistakes, rather than gross abuses.[15] In what was believed to be an unprecedented move, Packwood attempted to influence the Democratic primary's outcome by running television ads against AuCoin.[16]

Ultimately, the results of the Democratic primary were so close that an automatic recount was triggered.[16] AuCoin held a news conference on May 23 in the South Park Blocks stating he would wait for the recount, but the margin was currently 248 votes in his favor.[17] On June 18, over a month after the primary election, AuCoin was certified as having won by 330 votes.[18] Upon conceding the race, Lonsdale pondered mounting a write-in campaign, reiterating that Oregon needed an "outsider" in the Senate.[19][20]


Democratic primary for the United States Senate from Oregon, 1992[21]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Les AuCoin 153,029 42.18%
Democratic Harry Lonsdale 152,699 42.09%
Democratic Joseph Wetzel 31,183 8.87%
Democratic Bob Bell 23,700 6.53%
Democratic miscellaneous 1,194 0.33%
Total votes 361,805 100.00%

Republican primaryEdit


Packwood had gone through a divorce in 1991, and his ex-wife threatened to run against him amid mounting concerns about his "eye for the ladies." The socially conservative Oregon Citizens Alliance (OCA) was at the apex of its statewide prominence with 1992's anti-gay Measure 9 and its newly formed American Heritage Party (AHP). The group endorsed Republican challenger Joe Lutz, who had run against Packwood in the past on a family values platform; but Lutz soon withdrew, announcing a divorce of his own. As early as January, the OCA considered backing former gubernatorial candidate Al Mobley as an independent or as a member of the AHP.[22][23] Mobley ultimately decided in mid-August not to run, stating that he could not bear the idea that he might be responsible for causing AuCoin to be elected.[24] Packwood's most significant challenge thus came from little-known conservative Medford attorney John DeZell, who campaigned on the family values issue.[25] Packwood cruised to victory over DeZell and several other candidates.


Republican primary for the United States Senate from Oregon, 1992[26]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bob Packwood 176,939 59.10%
Republican John DeZell 61,128 20.42%
Republican Stephanie J. Salvey 27,088 9.05%
Republican Randy Prince 20,358 6.80%
Republican Valentine Christian 10,501 3.51%
Republican miscellaneous 3,397 1.14%
Total votes 299,411 100.00%

General electionEdit


By the end of June, when the recount was complete, AuCoin was nearly out of campaign funds; Packwood entered the general election race with $3.2 million[27][28] and was ranked sixth nationwide among Senators raising funds outside their home state during the 1990–1992 election season.[29]

AuCoin opposed weakening the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to erase the Northern Spotted Owl's impact on the timber industry, but Packwood ("one of the timber industry's chief allies," according to Oregon State University political scientist William Lunch[30]) assailed "environmental extremists" and introduced legislation to convene a presidential cabinet committee to exempt the endangered owl from the ESA.[31]

In September, Packwood pulled ads that had falsely criticized AuCoin for missing votes while speaking to special interest groups.[32] By October, Packwood had raised $8 million,[33] spending $5.4 million more than AuCoin, and leading all Senate incumbents.[34] Yet that fall, the two candidates were in a dead heat, with Packwood continuing to criticize AuCoin on attendance, his House bank account and the spotted owl, and AuCoin echoing the campaign of popular Presidential candidate Bill Clinton by accusing Packwood of favoring the wealthy over the middle class.[35]

The outcome of the bruising race was too close to call on election night, but on the following day, Packwood emerged as the winner with about 52% of the vote to AuCoin's 47. In his victory press conference, Packwood endorsed AuCoin for Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton administration.[36][37] When told of Packwood's comments, AuCoin responded by saying "I think that's real special."[38]


General election results[39]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Bob Packwood 717,455 52.14%
Democratic Les AuCoin 639,851 46.50%
Write-In Miscellaneous 12,934 0.94%
Independent Harry Lonsdale 5,793 0.42%
Total votes 1,376,033 100.00%
Republican hold


Magnifying the controversy of the race was a decision by the Washington Post to delay until after the election coverage of its year-long investigation into detailed claims of sexual abuse and assault made by 10 women against Packwood.[40][41][42][43] The paper ultimately published the story two months after election day. Oregon's largest daily newspaper, The Oregonian, did not break the story either, despite its own investigation and its congressional correspondent being subjected to Packwood's advances. The paper's editor would later admit to having been less than aggressive in pursuing the story due to concerns about "…ruining a man's career."[44]

A group of Oregon voters battled Packwood lawyers in briefs before the Senate Rules Committee in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the panel to refuse to seat the senator on the grounds of election fraud for lying about the abuses.[45] The senator admitted to the acts in 1994 and resigned after the Senate Ethics Committee censured him for his conduct in 1995.[46]

AuCoin was considered for Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of the Army in the new Clinton administration, though he was not offered either post.[47] When news of Packwood's resignation broke, AuCoin stated that he would not come out of retirement to run for the seat. He also stated that he would not engage in professional lobbying, but was criticized the next year for becoming the chairman of the government relations practice group in the law firm Bogle & Gates.[48][49]


  1. ^ Ulrich, Roberta (December 21, 1991). "Demos, GOP look to the West for vote gains". The Oregonian.
  2. ^ "Bob Packwood". Willamette Week. September 16, 2009.
  3. ^ Egan, Timothy (September 9, 1995). "Packwood Is Leaving As a Pariah In His State". The New York Times.
  4. ^ The Oregonian, June 13, 1988.
  5. ^ a b c Matassa, Mark (May 18, 1992). "Great political lineup in Oregon primary, but it's not the NBA – is voters' mood a pregame show for Washington?". The Seattle Times.
  6. ^ Mapes, Jeff (December 31, 1991). "Senate aspirant proposes restoring tax deductions". The Oregonian.
  7. ^ Hortsch, Dan (January 30, 1992). "U.S. Senate candidate urges tax law reforms". The Oregonian.
  8. ^ Duin, Steve (January 28, 1992). "No debate for Wetzel? Inconceivable!". The Oregonian.
  9. ^ Duin, Steve (September 19, 1991). "THE RETURN OF A CAREER CANDIDATE". The Oregonian. pp. B07.
  10. ^ Mapes, Jeff (February 9, 1992). "Demo Senate primary gets rough". The Oregonian.
  11. ^ Walth, Brent (March 21, 1992). "Lonsdale Firm's Hazardous Waste Violated No Rules". The Register – Guard – Eugene, Or. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  12. ^ Mapes, Jeff (January 5, 1992). "Lonsdale, in about-face, opposes nuclear power, Trojan restart". The Oregonian.
  13. ^ Mapes, Jeff (March 29, 1992). "AuCoin takes Lonsdale's role in debate". The Oregonian.
  14. ^ Mapes, Jeff (February 18, 1992). "Packwood, AuCoin exchange accusations". The Oregonian.
  15. ^ Ota, Alan K.; Roberta Ulrich (March 14, 1992). "Oregonians check books". The Oregonian.
  16. ^ a b "The 1992 Campaign; Close Vote for Oregon Senate Seat Insures Recount". The New York Times. May 24, 1992. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  17. ^ Hamilton, Don (May 24, 1992). "AUCOIN WAITS FOR OFFICIAL DECLARATION OF VICTORY". The Oregonian. pp. D05.
  18. ^ Mapes, Jeff (June 18, 1992). "State puts its seal on AuCoin's victory". The Oregonian.
  19. ^ Mapes, Jeff (June 9, 1992). "A recount in the Democratic Senate primary is…". The Oregonian.
  20. ^ Mapes, Jeff (June 19, 1992). "Lonsdale concedes primary loss with attack on AuCoin, Packwood". The Oregonian.
  21. ^ "Oregon US Senate Democratic Primary Race, May 19, 1992". ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  22. ^ Mapes, Jeff (January 16, 1992). "Mobley, OCA consider independent Senate race". The Oregonian.
  23. ^ Sarasohn, David (July 26, 1992). "OCA party needs more normal name". The Oregonian.
  24. ^ Schwartz, Maralee; Thomas B. Edsall (August 16, 1992). "Big break for Sen. Packwood". The Washington Post.
  25. ^ Wolf, Richard (December 3, 1992). "Capitol to Cabinet: Some potential picks". USA Today. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  26. ^ "Oregon US Senate Republican Primary Race, May 19, 1992". ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  27. ^ "Let's make a deal". The Oregonian. June 26, 1992.
  28. ^ Mapes, Jeff (June 23, 1992). "Packwood rejects AuCoin's spending-lid plan". The Oregonian.
  29. ^ Ota, Alan K. (July 2, 1992). "Packwood ranked sixth in Senate in raising money outside of state". The Oregonian.
  30. ^ Tumulty, Karen (November 3, 1993). "Catching a 'Chameleon': Senate Wrestles With Packwood". Los Angeles Times.
  31. ^ "Packwood Wants Changes In Endangered Species Act". Spokane Chronicle. October 18, 1990.
  32. ^ Mapes, Jeff (September 26, 1992). "Inaccuracy found". The Oregonian.
  33. ^ Ota, Alak K. (October 30, 1992). "Data sparse on Packwood's donors". The Oregonian.
  34. ^ Hamilton, Don (May 25, 1993). "Packwood sets '92 campaign spending record". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  35. ^ Mapes, Jeff (October 29, 1992). "Packwood, AuCoin in dead heat, new poll finds". The Oregonian.
  36. ^ The Associated Press (November 5, 1992). "Sen. Packwood Backs Foe For Cabinet". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  37. ^ Cain, Brad (November 5, 1992). "Packwood: defeated foe would be good Interior chief". The Bulletin (Bend). Retrieved April 10, 2010.
  38. ^ Mapes, Jeff (November 5, 1992). "Victorious Packwood boosts foe for cabinet". The Oregonian.
  39. ^ "Oregon US Senate Race, Nov 3, 1992". ourcampaigns.com. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  40. ^ Coffey, Raymond R. (December 3, 1992). "What Delayed Packwood Expose?". Archived from the original on October 25, 2012. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  41. ^ Povich, Elaine S. (November 20, 1993). "Packwood may quit soon, his lawyer says". Chicago Tribune.
  42. ^ "Special Report: Clinton Accused". The Washington Post. January 31, 1999. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  43. ^ Connelly, Joel (December 5, 1992). "Packwood story angers Oregon, women want him to resign". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Retrieved April 2, 2010.
  44. ^ Reid, Cheryl (January–February 1993). "A Newspaper Confesses: We Missed the Story". American Journalism Review. Archived from the original on June 13, 2010. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  45. ^ Povich, Elaine S. (May 11, 1993). "Group says Packwood lied, asks Senate to nullify election". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  46. ^ "Decline and fall: Senator Bob Packwood resigns after censure by Senate Ethics Committee". Newsweek. September 25, 1995.
  47. ^ Wolf, Richard (December 3, 1992). "Capitol to Cabinet: Some potential picks". USA Today. Retrieved October 8, 2009.
  48. ^ Church, Foster (January 26, 1993). "AuCoin takes job as lobbyist in D.C.". The Oregonian.
  49. ^ Mapes, Jeff (June 11, 1993). "AuCoin now lobbying for timber industry". The Oregonian.