Toward the end of the movie “Animal House,” the leader of the titular college fraternity, beaten, lost and shut down, made a rousing speech: It was time, he said, to reply in the form of a hopeless but explicit gesture of defiance.
So, we might reasonably assume, is former Oregon Treasurer Jim Hill entering the race for governor.
That was of course not the story four years ago when Hill ran for governor. He was then a recent two-term state treasurer, a current major figure in Oregon politics on a par with Ted Kulongoski, and with a better win-loss record. And he ran competitively for governor in 2002.
But he lost that primary to Kulongoski, and hasn’t been visible in statewide politics since. That puts him at a huge disadvantage. His late start now – true, after raising the prospect for months, but not really starting up until now – puts him at an enormous financial, organizational and message deficit to the incumbent. It doesn’t even position him well against Pete Sorenson, the Lane County commissioner who has been actively running for months, and with whom Hill will split the vote to the left wing of the party.
Hill’s entry was a shot at Kulongoski, who he accused of breaking a number of promises from the last campaign (certainly in the case of casino growth at least, there’s truth in that). But by splitting the opposition vote, he actually solidifies Kulongoski’s lead. (Longstanding rule in politics: When an incumbent is running, it’s investment v. everyone else, and an increase in the number of challengers improves the incumbent’s chances.)
So why do it? Only one explanation really serves: That a number of people to Kulongoski’s left (presumably including Hill) are genuinely ticked off that he has tacked toward the middle during his term, and want to call him on it. Once described as a liberal, Kulongoski has acted more as a centrist as governor, and Hill fired the shot that he couldn’t tell the difference between the incumbent and a Republican.
Well, the Republicans can … and so, likely, can many of the voters in the big middle. If Hill and Sorenson on the left, and the Republicans on the right, push Kulongoski into the position of representing that big group in the middle, well, that’s not so uncomfortable a place to be, especially come November.
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