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Kulongoski’s state

Astate of the state speech delivered to something other than a legislature may be useful (whether or not required), but it functions quite differently than a normal statehouse annual speech. Inevitably, it is delivered in a governance vacuum, and – in its most pertinent sense – to a political audience.

Ted Kulongoski preparing his addressFriday, instead of reaction from legislators on the prospects for passage of a governor’s program, Oregonians heard reviews from the men who would like to replace Ted Kulongoski as governor.

Everything enunciated Friday was predictable. The governor said the state of the state was good, better than it was four years ago: Even in the overtly governance parts of the speech, it evidently was delivered with a direct view to the campaign ahead. As at the beginning: “And together, we have done things, things that have improved the lives of thousands of Oregon families. So today I say to you: The heartbeat of our state is stronger – and hope burns brighter. Oregon is back!”

There was, scattered through the speech, some acknowledgement of problems (notably a weak job market – though not framed that way; he spoke instead of individuals job seekers or holders who need help). But the overall tenor was of solutions in the works.

Is Kulongoski basing his campaign on the proposition that people are upbeat about the state? Sounds that way; and if so, it could be an iffy strategy.

So too, however, could be gloomy opposition campaigns. As the other candidates for governor were canvassed in news reports, you heard a lot of “too little, too late,” “why didn’t he act earlier on?” and similar. Problem is that those points have no emotional resonance for most voters, who tend to respond better to upbeat optmists.

That seems to be where Kulongoski is positioning himself. His gamble is that enough Oregonians are happy enough to buy in. It seems likely to work to this extent: His opponents will have to be careful how they frame their ongoing response to it.

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