Cliff Bentz, Ontario attorney seeking the 2nd Congressional District seat, says support for the president is a priority he hears from voters as he campaigns throughout the region. (File photo)

Cliff Bentz could finally relax a bit in his quest to be the next Congressman representing eastern Oregon.

Bentz, an Ontario attorney and former state legislator, has been running hard to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.

In an uncertain political year, he has been keeping a wary eye on his opponent, Democrat Alex Spenser. With Democratic spending surging across the U.S., Bentz braced to see how much money had flowed to his Klamath Falls opponent and how that might change his campaign plans.

Turns out, not much.

Spenser’s report to the Federal Election Commission reported a total of $17,000 in income.

That same day, Bentz reported taking in nearly $600,000 for his campaign in the last three months. In total, Bentz has raised $1.1 million.

“I was not willing to take anything for granted,” Bentz said.

The campaign finance report is revealing about how Bentz has crisscrossed the huge 2nd Congressional District, which covers all of Oregon east of the Cascades and parts of southern Oregon.

Most of his money in the past three months has come from individual donors – $474,401 of the $590,932 in contributions. The contributors span the district, from Ontario and Vale to Medford and Klamath Falls, and Powell Butte to Milton-Freewater.

“It’s a reflection of my having spent 40 years working as a lawyer and trying to do public service,” said Bentz.

Now he’s facing a stack of 700 thank you notes. Every donor, not matter the amount given, gets one, Bentz said.

He said his two years in the state Senate representing the eastern Oregon was a “huge advantage” in building his name familiarity and getting acquainted with people.

Still, “a lot of people in the district don’t know me. It costs money to get your name out,” he said.

His campaign finance report shows he has spent $795,000 over the entire campaign and still has more than $400,000 on hand.

Bentz said he is attracting backers in part because he stood with President Donald Trump.

“They support me because I support the president. They have made that very clear,” Bentz said.

He said Republicans are intensely focused on keeping Trump in office.

“There are a lot of people, a huge number of people, who are scared to death that the Democrats are going to switch us out from capitalism to socialism,” Bentz said. “It’s a true fear.”

He said voter enthusiasm is at “an all-time high” because of the presidential race. He said he rarely sees campaign signs in his territory for the Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden.

He said of the voters he encounters, “it scares them to death” that Democrats will get control of the federal government.

Bentz said one issue he wishes more voters would consider is how the country is going to pay the mounting bills for Covid relief, health care costs and Social Security.

“That seems to be something people don’t say much about,” Bentz said. “I try to bring it up every time.”

Bentz said he’s worried about signals about where the economy is heading. He said a credit union in southern Oregon told him that people are saving money, and that deposits were up 400% from normal.

“The money’s not getting spent and businesses are folding up,” Bentz said. “It’s because people are scared. They are scared of the virus. They are scared to come out. They are scared to go out and spend.”

He said he’d like Trump to clearly link controlling the coronavirus and the economy. He said Trump could tell people they don’t have to wear a mask but if they want the economy back in full operation, they should wear one.

Bentz said he’d key in on four areas that would help Malheur County if he gets to Congress.

He wants to improve investments in water, particularly infrastructure for storing and delivering water that is wearing out. He wants to find a way to drive down the costs of health care and help schools so “kids don’t lose a year of their lives.”

And housing is crucial.

“You cannot find a house” for sale in the region, he said. “It’s crazy out there.”

MONEY SOURCES

Local donors over $1,000: Bruce Erlebach, Ontario contractor, and Teresa Erlebach, Ontario property manager, $5,600 each; Jim Farmer, Nyssa of Fort Boise Produce, $2,750; Roy Hasebe of Hasebar Farms of Ontario, $1,850; Sherri Hironaka of Ontario, $1,750; Norm Poole of Ontario , $1,500; Bobbi Buttice of Vale, $1,250; Salvador Sanchez, Kay Wettstein, both of Ontario, and Carl Hill of Nyssa, $1,000 each.

Major donors: $5,000 each from the National Beer Wholesalers Association, National Electrical Contractors PAC, National Automobile Dealers Association PAC, Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians. U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarty, R-Calif. and the House minority leader, has given $4,000.

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