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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We now have it definitively from the National Republican Congressional Committee: The top three U.S. House races in the Northwest – Washington 5 and 8 and Idaho 1 – are among the 33 top races in the country. All three, we know courtesy of The Hill newspaper, have placed on the NRCC’s “Final Push List.”

That list is about focusing financial help to specific campaigns. PAC Director Jenny Sheffield was quoted: “…it’s crucial at this point to send in some late money to some [of] our campaigns. The funds our candidates receive now will allow them to increase their TV buys and will make the difference on Nov. 7. I have attached our Final Push list for those Members and candidates most in need of support right now. If your boss has not maxed out to those on the attached list, please ask him or her to consider sending a check from a leadership PAC and/or reelection account … IMMEDIATELY!”

You sense a tone of urgency. Considering how securely Republican the three Northwest districts have been in recent elections, this is a remarkable admission (and backs up Cathy McMorris’ comments last week that the Washington 5th is in play).

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We shouldn’t let this go unnoted, if only as a model for next time around: Idaho 2nd District House candidate Jim Hansen’s fundraising.

Jim HansenHansen, a Democrat, is running a steeply underdog campaign against incumbent Republican Mike Simpson. Money was certainly never going to come easy, and Hansen decided early on that he would accept no PAC money, only contributions of $100 or less. His argument: “If at least 5,000 people donate $100 that ought to be enough to run a congressional campaign without going to the PACs and lobbyists that are strong-armed by Congress to fork over huge contributions every day. It is a leap of faith based on Jim’s convictions. The consultants inside DC think it’s nuts, but virtually every person Jim talks to in Idaho – ordinary voters – appreciate it as a principled stand. It is only risky if everyone who agrees with Jim sits back and does nothing.”

He acknowledged he’d draw some skepticism, and probably did. We weren’t dismissive, though, having seen the recently-developing power of grassroots fundraising.

So what has Hansen raised?

As of September 30, according to federal finance reports, he pulled $110,888, all of it from individuals.

Simpson has overall raised much more, $467,776 (and could have raised more, no doubt, if he felt more strongly threatened). But he raised $126,755 from individuals, not so much more than Hansen.

In today’s context, $110,000 (and Hansen has doubtless raised more since September) isn’t usually enough to win a congressional seat, but it is enough to get one’s word out.

Something interesting is going on.

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Idaho

The absolute assertion in today’s lead Salon article that Madison County, Idaho – and notably its main city, Rexburg – is “the reddest place in America,” is open to some dispute. We can cite a county or two in Idaho that may statistically surpass it, and elsewhere around the country there may be a few more. But that feels like a quibble; certainly you’ll not find many places more Republican in 2006 than the home of the Brigham Young University-Idaho, an institution of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Rexburg cityHave been there many a time over three decades, we can testify that writer Tim Grieve well captured the political nature of the place. Anyone interested in why much of Idaho, including much of eastern Idaho, is as it is, would do well to read it, though Rexburg sets somewhat apart from most other Idaho communities by virtue of the presence of the explosively growing BYU-I, which is just as conservative if not more so than its parent, BYU in Provo, Utah.

Grieve might be interested to know that, though Rexburg has for a century and more been overwhelmingly Mormon (recent estimates put the church’s portion of the population at well upward of 90%), it has not always been single-party. A generation ago it regularly elected Democrats alongside Republicans to the legislature and courthouse, and one of the leading families in town, in local politics and as owners of the local paper, were staunch Democrats. But those days appear to be past.

As this passage indicates:

And perhaps the results are preordained because of the monolithic influence of the Church of Latter Day Saints. As BYU-I English professor Dawn Anderson tells me, it’s important to understand that most voters in Madison County are Mormons, and that “everything of a political nature” has to be understood in that context.

“The climate surrounding faithful membership in this organization is not always conducive to challenging authority,” she says. “People here are reluctant to openly criticize the president and his administration, even if they privately disapprove of his job.” And many of them don’t disapprove, even privately. “After 20 years of teaching Mormon students, I’ve learned that the majority of them have little knowledge of issues outside the Republican platform. They only know that Democrats are lesbian baby-killers.”

She’s not being figurative. Anderson also recounts: “She remembers the time when a group of classmates followed her third-grader home, shouting out ‘baby-killer’ all along the way. She took it up with the teacher, who didn’t seem to mind.”

Anderson (who is a Democrat) doesn’t go on to say whether the BYU-I students, when they cast their votes, genuinely feel they are casting well-informed votes. But in this particular college town, such a concept takes on a framework all its own.

If Idaho largely remains, in this year of the blue wave, determinely red, there are reasons.

CORRECTED to change the name of publication to the (correct) Salon.

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In Oregon as nowhere else, the general election campaign jumps the shark today. By now, just about all Oregonians have received their ballots, and today they begin to vote; “election day” November 7 merely marks completion of the process.

ballots The campaign is hardly over, however: People do not cast their votes all at once. So to what extent do the remaining ads, campaigns, statements, news items and so on still count for something? A substantial amount, apparently.

We can put numbers to it. The Oregon Secretary of State’s office tracks the number of ballots returned by day, and from those numbers we can pull some trends.

The patterns differ for primary and special elections, but general election returns tend to be bunched near the end. In the 2004 general election ballot returns were fairly spread out, only modestly bunched at the end (40% of returns in the last three days, out of 13 days available). But in the 2002 general election, 55% of all returns came in the last three days out of 13. And in the 2000 general, 54% arrived in the last three of 12 days, the number was 51% in 1998.

Some of this may reflect active get out the vote (GOTV) campaigns which track who has and hasn’t yet voted (which is not especially hard to do), and then getting their people to send in those ballots. Some of it may reflect procrastination.

But while those late voters don’t eliminate the value of late campaigning, the half or so that vote earlier do wipe out many of the late slime campaigns voters elsewhere are accustomed to.

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In Oregon, ballots already are in the mail (some may have received them Saturday, most others should on Monday), so endorsements are long done. Although the Portland Oregonian is still dealing with fallout from last Sunday’s gubernatorial endorsement of Republican Ron Saxton: the paper says that somewhere near 400 letters to the editor flooded in last week in protest.

Will any of these other regional endorsements generate such response?

They tend not to generate a lot of surprise.

SEATTLE TIMES/SENATE Not a big shocker, that the Times went for Republican Mike McGavick over Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell (whom it endorsed six years ago). But the language seemed tepid. It didn’t much blast Cantwell, who (it said) has a decent record, taking issue mostly with her “caution.” The McGavick praise seemed a little narrow, praising mostly his spirit of innovation.

So the paper left itself open to an increasingly frequent charge, really needing to address it – as it did: “Critics will note that McGavick supports the elimination of the federal estate tax, a cause for which The Seattle Times has campaigned many years. That is part of why we endorse him, but not most of it.” How much of it will be a topic for easy dispute.

SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER/SENATE Elsewhere in the same large bundle of paper on Washingtonians’ doorsteps today they will find the PI‘s opposing take on the race. (Times goes R, PI goes D; okay, got it.) Their take, with a more definitive tone than the Times‘, concluded, “With America needing to fix off-track federal leadership, every Senate vote counts. Maria Cantwell is the candidate for a real change in course.”

SPOKANE SPOKESMAN REVIEW/U.S. HOUSE 5 After minimal coverage of the 5th district race – little that we could find, anyway – the paper endorses the incumbent, Republican Cathy McMorris.

EVERETT HERALD/CONGRESS The Herald went with the Democrats in its endorsements for Congress: Cantwell for the Senate, and Jay Inslee and Rick Larsen for their House seats. The argument for Inslee particularly was notable since it seized on what Inslee might do in case of a Democratic takeover of the House.

BOISE IDAHO STATESMAN/U.S. HOUSE 1 No shocker here either, as Idaho’s largest paper endorses Democrat Larry Grant over Republican Bill Sali. The Statesman notes that Grant “is a first-time candidate – yet he shows a studied, nuanced command of the issues.”

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Our Thursday post on the regional U.S. House races listed Washington’s 5th district contest, between incumbent Republican Cathy McMorris and Democratic challenger Peter Goldmark, as a serious contest – running up steadily to the point that it now merits serious watching.

We half-expected some counter on that from some area Republicans, and surely would have a few months ago. But conditions have changed, that assessment is mainstream, and now comes confirmation that the race is closing from none other than McMorris.

We got this courtesy of a glitch in telephone technology and Spokane Spokesman-Review political reporter Jim Camden. Camden on Thursday had dialed in to listen to a McMorris town hall session on veterans. Placed on mute (so that he couldn’t participate) – but inadvertently not on hold, like other participants, which would have blocked the private conversation – he overheard some pre-meeting chatter between McMorris and Idaho Senator Larry Craig, who chairs the Senate committee on veterans services. During that short conversation, McMorris told Craig, “It’s a closer race than I first imagined,” and advised her fellow Republican that Goldmark was “hitting very hard” on veterans issues.

Craig’s response was that nationally, “The new numbers are just devastating.”

This looks to be turning into an unusual political season.

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The ist district House race remains Topic A in Idaho – and beyond: We just got off the phone with a reporter from the Washington Post, so look for an ID-1 piece there soon – so: Here’s another log on the fire . . .

We’ll refer now to the blog byBubblehead (a term derived from his years in military submarine service, in case you wondered), a Republican who has issues with Republican 1st district House nominee Bill Sali. This paragraph in a recent post caught our attention.

Your biography indicates your faith plays a great role in your life, and I respect that. Many people in this district feel the same way. Do you feel that you could effectively represent those in this district who don’t share your beliefs? I’m a little concerned about this because the national leader of your church, Calvary Chapel, doesn’t believe that members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are Christians. Considering that over 25% of Idahoans are Mormons, I think it would be of interest to us to know if you believe the teachings of Chuck Smith in this regard: do you personally believe that Mormons are Christian?

This brought back to mind an incident fron seven years ago, on the edge of the 1st district.

Reel back to July 1999, to Spokane, when the Mormon church – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – was building and preparing to open their first temple in the city, a big event for the faithful in the area, and an indication of the solid growth in church members in the area. (Temples serve large regional groups of Mormons, as opposed to the local LDS ward buildings which appear in many communities around the Northwest.)

At the time, the largest single Christian church there and then was Calvary Chapel Spokane – you notice the name – was decided, amidst this activity, to bring in a high-profile guest speaker to preach at three well-promoted events. He was Bill McKeever, founder of the California-based Mormonism Research Ministry, and his speech was aimed at debunking Mormon doctrine. (It was not a one-time thing: The Spokane church still has a thorough criticism of Mormon doctrine posted on its web site.) The basic Mormon response was to “turn the other cheek,” rather than get into a theological war. But the incident still had to sting. (A Spokane Spokesman-Review account of this can be found about halfway down a research web document.)

The Kuna church does not include such items on its web site. But, taken together with attitudes toward religion nationally and in governing circles in Washington, it does suggest that Bubblehead’s question isn’t irrelevant.

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How’s this for a head-spinner: An attack on Idaho’s Proposition 2 from the right that very nearly matches with a central attack on it from the left, and center?

Robert Vasquez
Robert Vasquez

The tone is unmistakable, though: This could be no one but (retiring, but upcoming Senate candidate) Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez.

In an Idaho Statesman guest opinion, he takes after the land use initiative in part (and this is very much a loose paraphrase) based on his experience in local government, arguing that local governments, which are most closely beholden to the voters, would be superseded by a state action. In that, he joins the view of a lot of other elected officials around the state.

Then this:

Let me set the stage by reiterating the collusion between Idaho’s 1st Congressional District candidate, Bill Sali, and the Club for Growth.

Club for Growth bought the candidacy of Bill Sali for a mere $330,000 (more or less) in soft money, negative campaign ads. Then Laird Maxwell, a staunch Sali supporter, steps forward with this Proposition 2 proposal, under the guise of “free market, private property rights” that would, of course, strike a chord with the Idaho sense of independence. What Mr. Maxwell does not disclose in his efforts is the fact that the Club for Growth has contributed to the funding to get Proposition 2 on the November ballot.

Now enters Bill Sali, still serving as a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, professing to be a low-taxes, small government conservative Republican, who voted in August to raise the Idaho sales tax by 20 percent, but makes no comment when asked about his position on Proposition 2.

Why? Because Club for Growth is guiding both campaigns, in hopes of fooling the Idaho voter once again into giving up their congressional representation to corporate greed, and the citizens’ right to testify in opposition at land use hearings under the existing land use law.

Whew. And concluding: “Let us send a message to the Club for Growth, and their puppets, Laird Maxwell and Bill Sali, that Idaho is not for sale.” Notice that Democratic call-out at the end? (Don’t tell us it was inadvertent.)

Appears, more and more, that Idaho voters are increasingly likely to kill this thing.

THE SALI ANGLE Sali’s role in this requires a little more explication, and happily the Nampa Idaho Press Tribune ran a piece today adding useful details.

Bear in mind the early conventional wisdom on Prop 2 was that – given the way its supportive rhetoric matches neatly with often-winning political rhetoric in Idaho – it would sail through to a win. We still don’t know for sure what will happen, but its chances of success today look considerably trimmed from a few months ago. Add to that a normal bit of political strategy, that politicians like to associate themselves with winning issues, not with losers. Watch people like Republican gubernatorial candidate C.L. “Butch” Otter struggle with Prop 2 and finally come out against it, and you can see the prevailing winds in action.

In July, the Boise Weekly‘s Shea Anderson asked 1st House district Republican nominee Bill Sali about Prop 2. He wrote that Sali said he would vote for it, and added the comment, “As John Locke said, ‘the preservation of property’ rights is the ‘end of government,'” Sali said in a statement e-mailed to BW. “Government should be a good neighbor with property owners, and Proposition 2 embodies that principle.” Based on that, Prop 2 organizer Laird Maxwell listed Sali on his web site as a supporter, which seems reasonable. Sali’s name has been there for quite a while; it is listed there still. (A quick aside: The endorsement list for Prop 2 includes one state senator out of 35, four state representatives out 70, and one incumbent local government official, out of thousands statewide. There may be a message in that.)

The Press Tribune today quoted, “Bill is still undecided on how he’ll vote on Proposition 2,” in the words of candidate spokesman Wayne Hoffman; and “I think what Bill said is that he supports the concept but he still needed to review the proposal.”

This from the man whose campaign is based around the idea of black-and-white certainty about such matters as (among others) taxes and property rights. If Hoffman’s words are literally true, then Sali must be one of the last people in Idaho tracking public affairs at all who doesn’t know what they think – pro or con – about Prop 2. And that would be remarkable.

This is a landmark development in this election season in Idaho. It speaks not just volumes but shelves about both Sali and about the proposition.

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It’s a statewide nonpartisan poll, conducted October 6-8, relatively little noted, on key Oregon election issues, including the governorship and all the ballot issues. As noted by its provider, it has to be taken with caution. But it still may be of interest.

The chief cautions: A low number of respondents for Oregon statewide (the original intent had been higher), a ihgh margin of error and a survey population that’s out of whack with Oregon’s overall. It also registers a high percentage of undecideds. Still, the methodology looks reasonable, and the results may be worth noting if you adjust for basic demographic factors. It was conducted by the Linfield College (McMinnville) School of Communications.

After accounting for several adjustments, the poll suggests that (as of its survey time) Democratic Governor Ted Lulongoski held a discernible lead, though well less than the survey suggests on its face (an 18.9% lead).

Maybe of more interest, it offers the chance to compare popularity of the ballot issues against each other. Most popular: 40, 45, 47. Least: 42, 38.

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The three Pacific Northwest states (those we track, anyway) have 16 U.S. House seats, 10 held by Democrats, six by Republicans. All are up for election this year; just four appear to be seriously contested. But three of those four are getting increasingly interesting. Below, we’ll do a reassessment.

By excluding some races from the ranks of “seriously contested,” we aren’t suggesting that the campaigns in all other districts are without point, but we do suggest the evidence points to them more as longshots than as prospective nailbiters on November 7. We’ll take a run through the “active” races as well.

First, the top four, in order of the likely edge-of-the-seat quality for election night, and the likely nervousness of the incumbent – and there are incumbents in all of them (just one open seat in the Northwest this year).

In the case of three of these races, a quick note. In months past, we’d periodically remark that we’d consider it very close or competitive or switching direction if certain indicators appeared on the horizon. Suffice to say: Many of them have duly (maybe surprisingly) appeared.

Dave Reichert
Dave Reichert
Darcy Burner
Darcy Burner

1. Washington 8th – incumbent Dave Reichert, Republican, challenger Darcy Burner, Democrat. Look on any substantial national list of key House races nationwide in the last half-year, and Reichert-Burner will figure prominently. Our most recent post on this one called it a tossup, and there seems no reason to change that. Quite a few national assessments say the same. So do a lot of polls, which in the last few weeks consistently have shown these contenders within two or three points of each other, both hanging close to, often barely shy of, the 50% mark.

This race got to that point in a smooth trajectory and since appears to have become stuck in neutral, maybe in part because not many undecideds may be left. It’s become a terrific tug of war. The ad war has been fierce, and sometimes there’s been blowback. Burner has been airing a spot featuring video of Reichert saying, “So when the jeadership comes to me and says, ‘Dave, we need you to take a vote over here because we want to protect you and keep this majority,’ I do it.’” It leaves out what he says next: “There are some times where I say, ‘No, I won’t.’” And it was taken from a video presentation by TVW, which bans use of its material for political campaigns. Burner has some significant complaints too, especially about the wave of third-party ads and robocalls in the district. Reichert got the Seattle Times endorsement; Burner’s backers seem if anything energized in their responses to it.

One indicator of a superheated race is when it draws big national money late in the game, when everyone most desperately needs it and priority decisions have to be made. This race has drawn massive funding in recent days from national Republican sources, and it’s the only one in recent days to draw a big pile ($355,00, last night) from the national Democrats as well. Washington 8 is as fiercely contested as any race in the country. A significant Democratic wave – even one smaller than now appears in development – could put Burner on top. This is an increasingly nationalized race, and that’s bad news for Reichert. In his campaigning and in his term as congressman, he’s been just close enough to President George W. Bush and to House leadership (pictures and all) to give Burner terrific ammunition.

For the moment, we’ll keep it in the tossup category, but barely. Reichert is riding on the ragged edge. He not only cannot afford a mistake; he can’t afford to run less than perfectly from here on. And that might not be enough.

Bill Sali
Bill Sali
Larry Grant
Larry Grant

2. Idaho 1st – challenger Bill Sali, Republican, challenger Larry Grant, Democrat. Political analysts nationally today view the overall contest for the U.S. House far differently than they did a few months or even many weeks ago. Even in mid-summer, few serious analysts in either party figured more than 25 or 30 Republican House seats were in significant jeopardy; today, that figure has doubled. That kind of massive national trend is one of the “free radicals” we suggested earlier this year as a contributor to a possible Democratic – Larry Grant – win in the 1st. National trends favoring Democrats tend not to permeate well into the Idaho electorate. But this surge looks truly big, and if it is, this seat is up for grabs.

Two factors underlie this. One is the Democratic wave, of course, but what gives that wheels is other consideration, a persistent sense that Republican Bill Sali has not brought all his party’s supporters under his umbrella. Republican moderates fled early, but that was never considered a big problem; conservatives have won substantially here before without them. The bigger issue seems to be uneven support in the mainline Republican organization – relatively few of Sali’s fellow legislators seem to be standing with him, for example – together with gaps in support. The latter appears most visibly in the form of one of Sali’s primary opponents, Robert Vasquez, who has continued blasting away at Sali in recent weeks. Vasquez’ second-place primary status shows he has a following that will listen. These in-party issues would not be enough, either, without (a) a meltdown on Sali’s part, (b) a brilliantly offensive campaign by the Democrats, or (c) a massive national wave that might pull just enough Democrats along.

Sali hasn’t melted down. His campaign has been run smartly, and Sali has performed well and sometimes better than that in his debates and other appearances (as has Grant). Grant’s campaign, if not a brilliant takedown effort, has established him as solid and credible. Neither campaign has made a serious slip so far.

Is this race close? The last poll put it 49-43, Sali leading – and that’s competitive. A better indication is Sali’s radio ads, which have gone negative on Grant: If Sali’s Republican tag were clearly sufficient to win, he’d be running out the clock with positive ads about himself instead. An even better indicator is new third-party robo-calls and the massive influx of money from national Republican sources, which materialized after Republicans polled on the race, and then declined to release the results. Yes, it looks close. (Less so than Washington 8, though; national Democrats haven’t been as forthcoming here.)

Republicans in Idaho have, over the last generation, showed uncommon skill at closing the sale right at the end. We aren’t labelling this a toss-up yet; it leans Republican. But gently; a much stronger breeze could push it over.

Cathy McMorris
Cathy McMorris
Peter Goldmark
Peter Goldmark

3. Washington 5th – incumbent Cathy McMorris, Republican, challenger Peter Goldmark, Democrat. In 2004 Cathy McMorris blew away two strong Republican primary opponents and in a near-landslide general election the best Democratic nominee the district had seen since Ton Foley. When her opponent this year turned out to be a rancher named Peter Goldmark who had never sought elective office before and wasn’t very well known around the district, and had no strong fundraising edge . . . well, this didn’t look like a nail-biter.

Today, though, you’d have to call it a serious race, and if the national Democratic wave is large enough, Goldmark could win. Today, we’d still call this a Republican-leaner. A week from now, that could change.

The big factor is the national picture, but Washington 5 is a district pointing out the folly of just letting the incumbent party go unchallenged – for that matter, of doing less than your best. Goldmark (who does have a political pedrigree, in that his father was a state legislator in the 60s), has had only limited advantages, but has made quite a lot of what he does have. He is a rancher from Okanogan, and uses the slog “Ride with Goldmark” – distinctive and more rugged-sounding than your typical Democrat. He only is a rancher, but looks (exactly) like one; and not only that, he’s been extremely active for decades in farm and ranching organizations and causes, giving him leg up in the rural areas where he’s been running especially hard. His race – this contest – has gotten little media attention in Spokane. But Spokane Democrats are re-energized this year, and better organized than usual. After a slow start, money has started coming in, and that together with web video has allowed him to cut some well-crafted spots that could logically sell in this district. He has done well in debates with McMorris. You sense a real energy around his campaign.

McMorris, by contrast, hasn’t been defining herself in especially helpful ways; at this point, she is easily cast as one of the participants in that awful Congress.

There’s not much to go on by way of polling or other big indicators. Our sense of this race, though, is that it’s becoming a real race. We’d not call it likely for Goldmark, yet. But if on election night you start seeing a smattering of Democratic dark horse wins around the country, don’t be too surprised if this is one of them.

Darlene Hooley
Darlene Hooley
Mike Erickson
Mike Erickson

4. Oregon 5th – incumbent Darlene Hooley, Democrat, challenger Mike Erickson, Republican. There is one basic reason this race is so serious: Erickson’s money, which he has contributed plentifully toward his effort to unseat Hooley.

Hooley is not without funds herself, and Erickson’s barrage of negative TV spots (some positives of himself intermixed) has been met solidly with return fire from Hooley; she didn’t just sit there and take it. In terms of pure TV visibility, it may be the most visible U.S. House race in the Northwest. If Hooley is genuinely vulnerable, this campaign should be enough to expose the weaknesses.

We’re not persuaded those weaknesses – there are some – are strong. Hooley’s support in the district is not overwhelming but it does seem solid enough not to be wiped away in a single run of TV ads. The seat is more than gently leaning in Hooley’s direction, we think. (None of this even factors in the national political trends, which favor Hooley to the extent they materialize.) If there have been unseen termites quietly chomping away at that support, we’ll take the measure of that, too, on November 7.

OTHER RACES We have kept a lookout on these other races, too. All can be considered active races: Candidates on both sides are making legitimate efforts, are much more than placeholders – but as matter stand none look likely to be close enough to keep everyone wondering late into the night.

IDAHO 2 Republican Representative Mike Simpson is simply a very, very tough target for Democrat Jim Hansen, who has been running a sound, intelligent and enthusiastic campaign pushing well beyond simply carrying the banner. But his odds here are just very tough, even in a year like this. If this seat flips, you will have witnessed a political cataclysm. (Do keep a look, though, on what the final percentage it; that may be parse-worthy.)

OREGON 4 Democratic Representative Peter DeFazio has run and won here in 10 general elections, few of them in conditions nearly so favorable as this. Republican Jim Feldkamp has worked hard in his second run in a row, but there’s little evidence he’s farther ahead now than he was two years ago at this point – and two years ago, when President Bush was a lot more popular in this district than he is now, he got crushed.

WASHINGTON 2 A string of newspaper editorials and news stories said it, and we won’t argue: Republican Doug Roulstone, who has run a solid and (for a challenger) well-funded campaign, is such a match for this district he probably would win this seat if it were open. As it is, he’s challenging a Democrat – Rick Larsen – who has the experience of barely winning some squeakers before consolidating his support and winning big last time. That kind of hard-won experience coupled with the wrong kind of year for Roulstone indicates that this cycle isn’t good timing. Larsen may not pull a landslide, but he’s a very solid bet to win.

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The longest single batch of endorsements in the Northwest is out today from Willamette Week, an entertaining read as usual but offering few surprises.

In the case of the governor’s race, you pick up an air of general disgust, though in the end WW did what you’d expect and endorsed Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski.

Most amusing endorsement, in House 29: “Flip-flop alert: Four years ago, we endorsed Riley against Republican Mary Gallegos, who painted him as a taxaholic. He lost. When the two squared off again in 2004, we backed Gallegos, who grew a set after she was elected to the House. She lost. We’re endorsing Riley this time against Republican Terry Rilling and Libertarian Scott Harwood. (And no, we’re not endorsing him in the secret hope that it will cause him to lose.)”

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