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Westlund’s cruising speed

Ben Westlund’s independent campaign for governor seems to have held from the beginning to its message, approach and focus – it knows what it is about – but it may begin to face the question: Is that enough?

Ben WestlundTurn back a few pages to an earlier stage in the campaign. Westlund, who had been a Republican state senator from the Bend area (he still is a state senator), switched his party identification to “independent” and announced his candidacy for governor on February 14. A significant surge of excitement ran around the state, and some objective measure of it showed up on a press release his campaign issued less than two weeks later: More than $100,000 in contributions had poured in, and more than 100 volunteers were hard at work gathering petition signatures.

That was a campaign on the move. You probably could not have got anyone to take a bet as to whether Westlund would got on the ballot. In the months since, a common assumption seems to have built in that he will be on the ballot. But the relevant numbers suggest that today, it’s a debatable question.

On one (key) level, it’s a matter of math. The ballot status requirement is 18,364 valid (“perfected”) petition signatures delivered by August 29 to the secretary of state’s office. 119 days have passed since Westlund’s announcement, and the campaign’s Stacey Dycus wrote us today that 4,585 signatures have been collected. 78 days are left to collect the remaining 13,779 valid signatures – assuming every signature collected to date is valid (never, of course, a safe assumption).

Put it this way: The Westlund campaign has collected about 39 signatures a day since its launch announcement; it will have to increase that to 177 a day, every day, from here to the end of August – again, assuming every signature is valid – to make the ballot. It will have to more than quadruple its pace, as we head into the summer doldrums and interest in politics tends to slip.

That’s what we mean by a debatable proposition.

What happened to the inevitability – and momentum? Nothing, so far as we can tell, to Westlund himself or his message. He has impressed far and wide as a candidate, and his proposals seem to have the same kind of reach they did last winter. But the environment has changed.

The Republicans have nominated a candidate who, in Ron Saxton, is positioned to reach out to more centrist voters than did Kevin Mannix four years ago – and in February, no one knew which of them would be the nominee. That takes a bit of air from the right. And a bit has pulled out of the left too, as labor unions and other groups that deserted Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski in the primary election have wandered back into his fold. A scenario in which masses of labor workers would provide Westlund with foot soldiers seems now less likely. There’s also been little polling evidence in the months since the announcement that Westlund has picked up steam among the voters.

That’s one theory, anyway.

None of which is to say that Westlund is done yet. It may be that if his campaign makes clear that a big final push is imperative, the petition work, hard as it is, could get done. Dycus noted to us that “we just kicked off our field efforts June 1” and that the campaign, which already has offices in Bend and Portland, is opening a new one in Eugene. The campaign events calendar is impressively full and obviously keeping Westlund rapidly on the move around the state. He has raised upwards of two-thirds of a million dollars, certainly enough to run a serious campaign with.

So don’t count this bit of analysis as an obituary. But do note that the campaign has some massive challenges to overcome in the next couple of months if it’s to get to the final round in November.

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