Writings and observations

A careful contestant

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has an easy, relaxed manner, but if you watch his actions and especially his voting record, you get the sense of a careful careful man who picks his battles with pinpoint precision.

Gordon SmithHe has a difficult path to walk. At home, he has to remain acceptable to his Oregon audience, which in recent years has elected only him among Republican candidates to a statewide position. That is in large part because he presents the image of a moderate guy, definitely not a Democrat but – apparently at least – to the left of most of the Republican majority in the Senate. (Obviously his close ties to Democrat Ron Wyden, whose role is less complex, helps.) In Washington, there is that conservative majority to deal with: He could could lose all clout in the Senate if he veers too far from it. It’s a complex task, and Smith appears to have honed his calculus well.

So sometimes he splits the difference, but not randomly.

He disappointed a number of environmentalist Oregonians, for example, when he finally announced this week he would vote for a defense appropriation bill that included a provision allowing oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, after years of opposing the oil drilling. When the vote came, however, the oil drilling proposal failed in the Senate by four votes. Did Smith wait to announce his position until after he knew how the vote would come out, knowing his own would not be needed – and then be counted as standing with his caucus leaders?

He might deny it. But it wouldn’t be surprising. The man knows how to pick his battles.

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