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The biggest political question in Oregon for the last several weeks – without a lot of visible poll results – is the state of play in the governor’s race, between incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski and Republican challenger Ron Saxton.

Ted Kulongoski
Ted Kulongoski
Ron Saxton
Ron Saxton

Looks increasingly as if, after a stretch where the candidates were closely matched, the govenror has opened a substantial lead again.

We’re not sure we buy the whole 11-point Kulongoski lead in the just-released Riley Research (of Portland) poll report (this copy by way of the Oregonian political blog). But, with maybe a few points shaved off, it does match other scraps of evidence we’ve encountered lately about the top Oregon contest.

The poll looks reasonably solid; it’s metholofy pages says “The sample of 445 provides accuracy within +/-4.65% at a 95% level of confidence. Fielding took place between October 19th and 24th, 2006.” The age breakdown seemed to skew a little old, but the party breakdown (Democrats 42%, Republicans 41%) seem okay for the purpose.

Conclusions: “Incumbent Governor Ted Kulongoski appears to have made a resurgence in the polls as he now shows support from 47% of voters. This represents an 11-point lead over his closest competitor, Republican candidate, Ron Saxton at 36%. Kulongoski has gained strength among Democrats, with support from 74% (up from 67% in our September poll), as well as among non-partisan voters, with support among 53%, up from just 32% a month earlier.
Saxton, meanwhile, has seen his support among Republicans drop from 75% in September, to just 68% in the current poll. Where he appeared to nearly split the vote among non-partisans just a month ago, his support among that group is now at just 21% (32% less than Kulongoski).”

Those candidate numbers include both firm and leaning. The rest: 12% undecided, 4% for Marry Starrett, and a percent each for Libertarian Richard Morley and Pacific Green Joe Keating. A breakdown by congressional district shows Saxton winning in districts 2 and 4 and losing the other three.

Here’s what Riley said on October 3: “Ron Saxton and Ted Kulongoski appear to be statistically even at 39% to 37% (respectively), with 20% undecided. This includes those for the candidate as well as those leaning toward the candidate. … At this time, partisan loyalty appears to be a greater challenge for Kulongoski than for Saxton, as Saxton gets support from 72% of Republicans, while Kulongoski has the support of just 67% of Democrats.”

Assuming this is somewhere around correct, what happened?

Somewhere, maybe around the two-thirds mark, through the blizzard of Saxton ads blasting Kulongoski on immigration and education, there may have been some blowback. The sheer volume of them may have turned some people off, identifying Saxton with negative campaigning. (Kulongoski’s campaign has run negative spots too, of course, but fewer in number, so they’re less likely to get tagged as “negative.”) They may also have been too early; Kulognoski’s defenders have been active attacking the attacks. And the visibility of the wave may have created a circle-the-wagons mood among Oregon Democrats; there’s an edge in that campaign you didn’t see before the wave.

We talked earlier today with a candidate who, a couple of weeks back, was observing the environment and thinking in terms of a narrow Kulongoski loss, now reversing the take and figuring a win is more likely.

The Oregonian‘s Jeff Mapes, in reporting on the new poll, noted, “There has been much talk in Democratic circles – and among some Republicans – that Kulongoski has moved back into the lead after he started his own advertising early this month – weeks after Saxton had been on the air.”

A dozen days out, with ballots coming in, it would seem so.

ALSO Maybe in the realm of rumor, but . . . in the comments section of Daily Kos we spotted this tidbit: “Internal Saxton Poll has Ted up 45 to 39. Heard this tonight at the local county Dems meeting. And this poll didn’t include third party candidates (there is a Constitution party candidate that could take a couple of percentage points off Saxton’s results).”

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