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Posts published in “Day: September 8, 2006”

Top 10 OR xgr: The premier races

Of the 75 Oregon state legislative seats up for grabs this year - 15 Senate, 60 House - just six - all in the House are completely unopposed. That's a record for civic involvement neither Idaho nor Washington comes close to matching.

Oregon House ChamberBut it's not, to be fair, an indicator that very many legislative seats will change hands. Odds are that as in recent years, the number of seats where that happens will be relatively small. Our best projections call for little change in either Senate or House overall. Bearing all factors in mind, we think most likely either no change or a seat in one direction or the other (more likely Democratic) in the Senate, and some Democratic pickup in the House, though the crystal ball still hazes when it gets close to the finish line - whether or not Republicans retain control.

A relatively small number of seats should decide the issue. What follow are the 10 we consider the top legislative races in the state, weighing closeness, intensity and significance. They're listed by district.

First, a wild card: House District 24, a seat reliably and easily held this decade by Republican Donna Nelson. All the statistics suggest she'll be returned again. Yet ... keep a look out for the contest being waged by Democrat Sal Peralta, a McMinnville businessman who has been chair of the Yamhill County Democrats, and this year has been running an unusually organized, thorough and energetic campaign. No wild projections here, but - keep it on your radar screen.

Our pick Idaho races will appear next week, and Washington races soon after that state's primary.

blue glass Senate District 7, incumbent Vicki Walker, D-Eugene; challenger Jim Torrey, R-Eugene. Ain't gonna be anybody disputing this race's place on this list. Walker has been a boat-rocker among Democrats for years, a rare legislator on the verge of breaking out as a true statewide figure, who almost filed for governor against incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski. Which hasn't stopped TedK from campainging with her this season, and for good cause: She faces one of the best (maybe the best) legislative candidates the Republicans have recruited this year. Torrey, with a reputation as a moderate Republican (or define him as you will; his campaign materials have a Saxton-type sound to them), was mayor of Eugene for a decade and still would be if he'd wanted it. This looks like the Democratic Senate seat most at risk; at present, it feels too close to call. (more…)

Deinstitutionalizing debates

For a generation, Idaho has had a fine feature in its political campaigns that many other states do not: An informal yet institutionalized structure of televised political debates that major office candidates as a matter of course take part in. In many states, the decision of whether the participate is renegotiated every election cycle; in Idaho, for many years, declining to participate simply isn't done.

Well, it's done now.

The debates have been set up through the League of Women Voters and Idaho Public Television. There's nothing necessarily sacred about their doing the debates, and over the years other groups and broadcasters have aired other debates as well. (When it comes to debates, the more the merrier, we always say.) But the IPTV-League debates have a special place, partly because they offer historical continuity - they've been done continuously for a long time now - and because they are a complete set. A commercial broadcaster might be interested in a race for governor or Congress, but might be less inclined to put an hour of prime time into a contest for, say, state controller or treasurer. The IPTV debates have created a framework of expectations: A run for major office on a major party ticket will mean you're expected to show up at a particular time and place organized by a group of people who have developed standing over an extended period.

This year, more than before, that's being challenged. Some days ago, Jim Risch, the current Idaho governor running as a Republican for the office of lieutenant governor, backed out of the IPTV debate, instead saying that he'll accept an invitation to appear at a KTVB-TV debate. And today, Republican gubernatorial nominee C.L. "Butch" Otter said he will do the same thing.

They're still appearing at debates, true. And the KTVB debates - they've done them a number of times over the years - certainly are professional too.

But those pullouts seriously weaken a debate structure under pressure in recent years. Its backers will have to do some hard thinking over the next cycle to make sure it doesn't weaken further in 2008.

A Sali-Grant shift?

The new Greg Smith & Associates poll, just out this afternoon, has one startling result in it, one certain to start some debate rolling among Idaho political watchers.

It is so startling because little else in it is.

The last Smith poll, using the same methodology, emerged in early July. In the 1st District U.S. House race, the premier contest at the monent, that poll gave Republican Bill Sali a lead of 41% to 25% over Democrat Larry Grant, with the remainder (34%) undecided. The new poll, conducted shortly before Labor Day, gives Grant a lead - 22% to 14%. And 61% undecided.

That's a double-headed stunner. If the numbers are right, then the number of undecideds in the race has nearly doubled, with almost all of that increase coming out of Sali's hide. It doesn't reflect acceleration on Grant's part; his numbers are almost identical, even down by a hair. Nevertheless, if a mass of former Sali backers have started easing away, that ought to be a cause for deep concern on the part of that campaign. (Could it be related to the recent defensiveness we've noted earlier?)

Are the numbers right? Well, you're never wise to put too much weight on any one single poll result. But consider this: All the other races polled both months - governor and lieutenant governor - show results almost unchanged from six weeks ago. And in two other races just polled, 2nd District U.S. House and superintendent of public instruction, the results show strong Republican leads, as you'd expect. Smith suggested that "The change is clearly a result of changing voter sentiment, not a change in polling methodology.”

We'd like to see whether this result is backed up a second time, or whether the next Smith poll swings back somewhat in the 1st CD. But the moment, with caveats noted, the poll suggests the 1st is a district to watch - one with a substantial number of voters not nailed down.

In the other results, there's less of note.

Office Republican % Democrat %
Govenor Butch Otter 42% Jerry Brady 18%
Lt Gov Jim Risch 46% Larry La Rocco 23%
1st US House Bill Sali 14% Larry Grant 22%
2nd US House Mike Simpson 61% Jim Hansen 19%
Supt Publ Instr Tom Luna 40% Jana Jones 29%

No great surprises elsewhere, other than that the number of undecideds is holding fairly strong elsewhere, too. This may be an unsettled, and unsettling election cycle yet.

UPDATE: The Sali campaign apparently doesn't handle bad news very well. It shot out a release contending, "The methodology used was so bad that Channel Seven, who commissioned the poll in the first place, has decided not to go with its obviously faulty results. We do not intend to release the results of our own internal polling at this time, for reasons of our own; but suffice it to say that our polling, using credible methodology and done by one of the most experienced and respected polling firms in the nation, bears no resemblance to Greg Smith's conclusions."

First, the Sali campaign had no issue with Smith's numbers in July, which resulted from the same methodology (and showed Sali in a more favorable light). Second, the easiest refutation of Smith's results would be release of the campaign's internal polls, which the campaign says it has conducted, but which it is not releasing. Campaigns often release at least the base numbers - if, that is, releasing them puts the campaign in a favorable light. Campaigns that sit on poll numbers typically do so because they don't look so hot - an argument in favor of Smith's numbers.

The emotional response suggests that Smith's results may have touched a nerve.