SALEM, Ore. – In 2015, Alek Skarlatos and two friends thwarted an attack by a gunman on a Paris-bound train, a dramatic and heroic action that was made into a movie by Clint Eastwood in which the trio starred as themselves.
Now, Skarlatos, 28, is hoping to ride his moment of fame to get a seat in Congress, representing Oregon’s 4th congressional district in the House of Representatives. To do that, the Republican candidate will need to unseat Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio, the longest serving House member in Oregon’s history, in the Nov. 3 election.
This summer, the worst wildfires on record burned in Oregon, with climate change and overgrown forests worsening fire conditions. As smoke smothered Skarlatos' hometown of Roseburg, he took interest.
“It was really the lack of forest management that got me interested (in running), because it is a federal issue. And our forest policy is made 3,000 miles away, in D.C.,” Skarlatos said in an interview.
Winning the election seems like a long shot, but Skarlatos has raised more than $3.7 million in campaign contributions, compared to DeFazio’s nearly $3.3 million, according to the Federal Election Commission.
The last time a Republican was elected to the seat that represents the southern half of Oregon’s coastal counties was in 1972, and the GOP is eager to deal a blow to Democratic control of a district that includes swaths of rural, conservative areas as well as more liberal bastions in the college towns of Eugene and Corvallis. A possible factor in Skarlatos' favor: Thousands of students at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University, who would normally vote in those towns, are learning remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic.
If Skarlatos flips the seat, it would likely give the GOP two of Oregon's five House seats in this blue state, with the GOP almost certain to retain control of the 2nd Congressional District covering eastern and central Oregon. Both of Oregon's senators are Democrats, as is the governor. Democrats have a supermajority in the Legislature.
One of Skarlatos' campaign videos features TV news reports on how he, two longtime friends, and two other men foiled the attack on Aug. 21, 2015, by Islamic extremist Ayoub El-Khazzani on a high-speed train with 500 passengers aboard.