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Posts published in October 2006

Crossover undervotes?

Some county elections offices do and some don't make specific counts of "undervotes," which is the difference between the number of valid ballots counted and the number of votes in a particular race - the number of voters who bypassed a particular race. The undervote most commonly gets larger - which is to say, the vote gets smaller - as you move down a ballot. In presidential years, the undervote for president is usually microscopic, while the undervote for sewer district commissioner might be substantial.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review site has a provocative post on the undervote in last month's primary election - Republican division - for the office of sheriff. You might usually expect the undervote there to run rather high. In this case, the race was heated - signs and billsboards and letters to the editor about both candidates, Ozzie Knezovich and Cal Walker, were visible all over - so that logically would diminish the undervote. (Knezovich recently had been appointed sheriff, and was facing in the primary an incumbent Spokane Valley police chief. He is considered highly likely to win the general election.) But the Spokesman's Jim Camden checked the numbers and found it was unusually small, only about 3%. By comparison, the undervote in the U.S. Senate primary was about 10% (a fairly normal level for such a race).

Camden also, however, noted something else:

"The Democratic sheriff’s primary has the largest drop-off of voters, with nearly one in four not voting for newcomer James Flavel, or writing in someone else’s name. That’s more undervotes, by far, than any other Democratic primary in the county. What this suggests is that voters who took Republican ballots just for the sheriff’s race are either Democrats who are likely to shift back to their candidates in November, or independents who aren’t yet sold on the rest of the GOP ticket."

Another piece of the puzzle, as Spokane County works out what it will do when the parties compete on November 7.

Doc’s diagnosis

We're now into newspaper endorsement season, which we'll be following with some closeness over the next couple of weeks. We don't do this because newspaper endorsements have an especially large impact on election results: In our experience, they usually don't. But these endorsements often tell quite a bit about both the newspapers and the candidates they endorse, and those they don't.

Yakima Herald-RepublicAn October 3 editorial in the Yakima Herald-Republic, which was not an endorsement at all but rather about an incident in the endorsement process, makes the point.

Like many other newspapers which endorse (not all do), the Herald-Republic customarily interviews the candidates first, often and preferably with both in the room at the same time. That paper has done these interviews for a long time, apparently decades at least, and none of the candidates solicited has turned down an interview, until now.

That declinee would be incumbent Republican Representative Doc Hastings, seeking his seventh term in Congress. He sent the paper a note outlining his reasons: "I'm certain you understand that during each election year candidates for public office are approached by a wide range of organizations and media outlets desiring to make endorsements in their races. Of course, common sense dictates that candidates decide on a case-by-case basis which media and other endorsements to seek. In my case, since I'm not seeking the Herald-Republic's endorsement, it won't be necessary to include me in your endorsement interview schedule this year."

The Herald-Republic mused, "Instead, Hastings is apparently more comfortable with an Oct. 31 session with his hometown Tri-City Herald, which endorsed him two years ago - while we endorsed his opponent, Democrat Sandy Matheson. Surely that development wouldn't influence Hastings' decision to turn us down this year. Or would it?"

The paper then concluded it would: "His statement indicates he'll pick and choose those he will grace with his presence. And, while that is certainly his right, that's a shame, too, because it could tarnish by implication the endorsement process of other organizations and media outlets. Do his actions suggest he will only meet with those he thinks will rubber-stamp his re-election bid?"

In Hastings' previous runs, the Herald-Republic endorsed him twice and his opponent four times. Especially in this year's environment, when Hastings' new role as House ethics chair is getting increasingly tough to defend, Hastings' Democratic opponent Richard Wright (a decent candidate who still seems a longshot to win on November 7) looks like a fair bet to win the H-R nod.

Still, as the Yakima paper noted, all this has a tendency to degrade the political conversation, forcing even newspapers which make a real effort at neutrality into a partisan corner. That's not a positive note in an increasingly harsh campaign season.

Doc, then and now

Not especially by way of suggesting that Doc Hastings is barely holding on to his House seat, but quick review of the central Washington congressman's ethics world less than a month, as opposed to now, may be instructive.

Doc HastingsOn September 10 the Seattle Times ran a piece overviewing Hastings' re-election bid this year. Of the state's three Republican House members, he has the most favorable district, he has had the most time to become entrenched (the other two both were first elected in 2004) and has drawn the least-organized Democratic opposition (a fact related to the first two). What people reported liking most about him was his accessibility in district and his attention to local concerns and projects.

And of his role as chair of the House Ethics Committee? The Times noted how the New York Times has called the ethics panel under Hastings "a stunning still-life study in Capitol casuistry and partisan standoff"; newspapers have called Hastings personally "a leadership stooge" in referring to the committee's quietude. One of the Democrats running against him said Hastings "has done all he can to protect ihs colleagues from indictments."

And in Hastings' district? The Times notes: "the reaction among voters in Eastern Washington seems to be a collective shrug."

By all evidence, both within the article and from other sources, that conclusion seems about right - as of September 10. But would the Times be well advised to send a reporter back to central Washington for a post-Foley update? (more…)

Fusion: Candidates in multiplicity

In Oregon today, as in most states, you got your Democratic candidate for governor, your Republican candidate for governor, your minor party candidates for governor - and no sharing, please. Each candidate picks one party, and each party picks different candidates.

Was not always thus, as Lou Jacobson, a deputy editor at Roll Call (the D.C. Capitol Hill newspaper), points out in his latest column. For a century and more, until about a century ago, multiple political parties often cross-endorsed candidates. (The candidate who was the top vote getter ever among Idaho candidates for governor, Frank Steunenberg in 1896, was one of them, collecting endorsements from five of the six parties on the ballot.) The practice is uncommon now in most of the country; occasionally it still happens in New York.

Jacobson points out that an initiative to allow fusion voting is on the ballot now in Massachusetts. The idea is to allow smaller groups to become part of a joint process in nominating and electing candidates.

We note that here because he also says this: "Already, Oregon's WFP [Working Families Party] is trying to enact fusion voting through the Legislature. If that fails, it may try to circulate a ballot initiative, said Ben Healey, communications director for the Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign, the group that is sponsoring the Massachusetts initiative. Other states where activists have been trying to promote the idea include Ohio, Missouri and Washington."

This could be transformative for some minor parties. We'll be watching.

Vasquez rides again

Robert Vasquez, th Canyon County commissioner whose focus on illegal immigration has become his calling card, came in second place earlier this year in the Republican primary for the 1st congressional district. Wednesday, he delivered an announcement suggesting that is his rationale for running in 2008 for the U.S. Senate, against incumbent Republican Larry Craig.

Robert VasquezA note of caution should be inserted before we go any further. Underdog candidacies announced so early, even before the two-year election system begins (that won't happen for another month), have a way of not materializing: The candidate comes to appreciate the difficulty of the task ahead, and bails, quietly. That could happen here, but we think probably not. Vasquez is a man on a mission, for one thing, and for him the campaign is worth running even absent success. Besides that, he just got done experiencing the realities of a U.S. House race. He wouldn't be going into this unawares.

The question then becomes, how seriously shold Vasquez' candidacy be taken? The core answer is, somewhere between earth-shaking and dismissable. It stands to become a factor, if he does stay in.

There is the matter of Craig's future, for one thing. Vasquez is contending that Craig has lost touch with Idaho after so many years in Congress. (He first joined the U.S. House in 1981, so it's been more than a quarter-century.) But then, there's some question about whether Craig necessarily will run again anyway. In 2008 he will have had 18 years in the U.S. Senate, a long stretch, and if he has any interest in doing something else (such as making a larger amount of money), this would be a logical time. There's another consideration. Craig has spent much of his time, and most recent years, in the majority. Odds seem about even right now who will be the majority after this year's election, and because of the nature of seats up in 2008, Republicans might not keep their majority then even if they retain it this year. Craig could be factoring that into his thinking, too; being in minority after having been in the majority isn't nearly as satisfying.

Vasquez has been nearly a one-issue candidate, and that usually doesn't sell well. But in a field of six Republican House candidates, it was this year good enough for second place.

He could be strong enough to pose an issue for Craig. And if Craig opts out - he wouldn't on account of Vasquez, but might for other reasons - Vasquez starts out as the early contender.

Worth bearing in mind as we move beyond this cycle, as soon we will.

Big spenders

Pardon the long post, but in this case the detail is the point: What follows is a summary of top spenders in the Oregon legislative races this year.

Specifically, we looked at every race where either contributions or expenditures hit $100,000 or more, and a few other races of interest besides. The result seems a useful snapshot of where some things are headed, and where others might be.

Details below the fold. (more…)

Under the rug

Google never forgets: Politicians should remember that and act accordingly.

Consider this page (link and pointer courtesy of Horse's Ass), whic contains pictures of Washington 8th District Representative Dave Reichert, plus a businessman, and - former Florida Representative Mark Foley, recently resigned after being outed as a pedophile. The picture was taken in 2005, and there's no reason to think Reichert had any idea what his colleague was up to.

You can understand why Reichert would doubtless, now, rather forget he ever met Foley. Better, though, to have posted an additional message on the existing page - something, maybe, about how you just never know about people - than to have erased it and hope no one would notice. These days, people notice.

THE FOLEYS: Curious that no one in Washington seems to have remarked yet about a curiosity of names. From 1965-95 Washington had a 5th district congressman named Foley - Tom Foley - who became speaker of the House. In 1989, a Republican National Committee staffer shopped around a memo that connected Foley's legislative record to openly gay Representative Barney Frank's, and suggested Foley "come out of the liberal closet." After uproar, the staffer was fired, and the Floey/gay linkage evaporated.

Now a congressman from Florida, the far side of the country, a Republican named Foley, and ... you can fill in the rest.

Evidence wanting

In the flurry of discussion about the new hot Oregon TV spot, one key point should be brought central: There seems to be no evidence that the problems it cites are in any way real.

This isn't true of most TV political ads, which generally cite evidence (maybe in the form of news stories) where specific allegations are made. Ron Saxton, the Republican challenger to Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, has typically done this too, as on his ad about Kulongoski and taxes.

Not so on his new ad, now in heavy rotation, on illegal immigrants. There have at least been some past reports (one, as cited, in the Oregonian) suggesting - using statistical estimates, of course, not a census - that the number of illegals immigrants in Oregon is about 175,000. Of course, no one - no one - really knows if that's an accurate number. The Saxton ad cites it as established fact.

Then: "Under Governor Ted Kulongoski, Oregon gives drivers licenses to illegal aliens who use them to get state services and even vote. This costs Oregon taxpayers millions of dollars every year. Ron Saxton believes that illegal means illegal."

On the latter point, actually, so does Kulongoski, who has said his administration enforces the law against unauthorized immigration as best it can. Beyond that are some specific allegations: that illegals actually obtain drivers licenses; that they use them to obtain services; (implicitly at least) that they vote; and that this costs the taxpayers of the state millions of dollars annually.

These sound like documentable facts, if true. State officials, including Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, say they're not true. In the Oregonian today, "'I looked at the past 15 years of general elections,' Bradbury said. Of more than 10 million votes cast, only 10 prompted investigation into citizenship, he said, and of those 10, only two were prosecuted."

We've seen in recent reports no rebuttal about the facts of the matter from the saxton campaign. So this morning, we posed the question: "Concerning the current ad on immigration: What are the specifics on illegal immigrants voting or obtaining drivers licenses? The charges have been criticized as unfounded; what foundation do you have for them?"

The campaign responded promptly. In full: "Here is a quote from Sec. Bradbury. This seems to refute his statement to the paper. On Saturday, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury urged participants to take a stand against proof of citizenship and other identification requirements 'designed to reduce participation' in elections. - Salem Statesman Journal, 01/08/06 "

But that's a puzzle: Bradbury seems to be suggesting that the ID proposals have as their real purpose a suppression of voting, a suggestion he would make only if he thought their surface purpose - to keep non-citizens from voting - was not a real problem. It seems consistent with his statements to the Oregonian.

Not much of a response - no facts at all, not even any anecdotes, to demonstrate that illegal aliens have been obtaining drivers licenses, have been getting state services (as, probably, some have), have been voting, or have actually cost Oregon taxpayers a dime.

Maybe, in fact, they have - but so far that's guesswork. Until we see more, we're going to have to assume that on the subject of illegal immigrants, the Saxton campaign is simply making it up because the words "illegal alien" are a hot button in a tight race.

Buying TV

By all means run over - when you're done here - to the post at Loaded Orygun about how much candidates and committees have been spending in Portland's television media market.

There are some some limitations on this as an absolute overview of Oregon TV buys this campaign season. The big one is that there are other, albeit much smaller, TV markets in Oregon as well - Eugene, Medford/Klamath Falls, Bend (and the latter should no longer be an afterthought). But as an indicator of who's buying, this Portland survey will do well indeed.

The first stiking item is who's buying big. Three entities have bought over 1,000 spots on Portland TV so far - Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton, Oregonians Against Insurance Rate Increases/No on 42, and Mike Erickson. After those three, the number of spots by a specific buyer falls by mre than half.

One thing all three of those campaigns have in common is this: They are underdogs with deep pockets.

Deepest of all is the insurance industry, which has been spending millions to oppose Measure 42 - the one that would bar insurance companies from using credit ratings in setting coverage or premium levels - while its backer, Bill Sizemore, says he's literally spending nothing. What that tells us: This is an idea popular enough that budgets of millions, will be needed to keep it from passing, and that still may not be enough. It is the most remarkable such case on the ballot.

Not quite as deep are the pockets of Mike Erickson, whose hardcore air war against Democratic Representative Darlene Hooley - reciprocated fully - will be interesting to watch play out. We're skeptical about its efficacy.

Saxton, who has been a candidate for governor in the current cycle for a year or so, has been consistently behind Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski - although apparently, according to the latest polls, not by much. This effort is the leverage of raw money to win points, or at least lower the gap, and that he may have done to some extent. His 2,879 spots in the Portland market matches against Kulongoski's 387 - a gap of more than 7-1. That Kulongoski apparently remains ahead, and that the race has changed so little fundamentally, (and that the governor has spent so little of his own money so far, probably keeping him competitive in the next few weeks) may say something.

A recent lesson from across the Columbia may be pertinent. In the couple of months leading up to the mid-September Washington state primary, Chief Justice Gerry Alexander was the target of millions of dollars of broadcast attack ads, to which his side responded but with far fewer dollars - maybe about a third as many. Alexander won the election decisively.

There may be limits to how many votes these spots can buy. We'll know more about that, soon.

Helen Chenoweth-Hage

Quite a lot will doubtless be said soon about Helen Chenoweth-Hage, who died in a car crash this morning near Tonopah, Nevada. The former U.S. representative from Idaho's 1st district (1995-2001) was a distinctive and strong personality, and it seems peculiarly unfitting that her passing occur as a passenger in an auto accident; that's simply tragic.

Helen Chenoweth-HageWe recall her most specifically in connection with one arrival and two departures.

The arrival was political, in the year 1994, when she entered the race for the Republican nomination for the U.S. House. At the time she did that, her prospects seemed dim. Though she was a veteran Republican worker and staffer, she was the least-known of the three Republicans seeking the nomination, the less funded, the one everyone figured would be in third place - the fight, said the cognoscenti, would be between the other two. And whichever won would be unlikely to unseat the incumbent, Democrat Larry La Rocco, who had won easy re-election in two years before.

So much for all that: Helen Chenoweth (as she was then) ran an energetic race and took the prize. It was a cationary note, in a sense, to be careful who you underestimate. Which sets up the two departures ...

In 2000, she was facing a situation many of her colleagues were: In 1994 a lot of Republicans elected to Congress pledged to serve three terms and no more. In 2000 a lot of Republicans broke that pledge. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (as she was by then) did not: She kept her word and stepped down. She's had no lack of critics over the years, but they've all had to moderate their criticism of her with that tough-minded show of integrity.

As a private citizen, she remained vocal and tough-minded, and not just on a public platform. One day, not so long ago, she was at the Boise airport preparing for a flight back to Nevada, where in recent years she has lived with husband Wayne Hage. Arriving at the search area, she was instructed to submit to a search she thought was unreasonable. She asked the officials there: What is your authority for asking for this? (That being a question any citizen should always be able to ask of a government official and expect a clear answer.) She was told: We won't tell you. She then did what a liberty-minded American citizen should always do in such a situation, and what all too few actually do: She picked up her bags, walked out and drove to Nevada.

There was a day, in the early and mid parts of her congressional tenure, when Helen Chenoweth's critics were unflagging in their blasts at her. We suspect that a lot of them, reflecting today, wish she were still around to take up the battle. She will be missed.

Cantwell up by 10

Or so reads the latest poll on the Washington Senate race, by McClatchy-MSNBC. It gives incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell 50% and Republican challenger Mike McGavick 40% - close to where they have been, on average, through most of the campaign season.

Barring some really unexpected last minute quirk, the race looks close to done. McGavick has campaigned intensively and advertised intensively, but all of his efforts have moved the needle hardly at all.

One part of the reason may appear in other results in the poll: "The poll showed sharp dissatisfaction with President Bush, his Iraq policies and Congress among Washington voters. It also showed deep concern about the future of the country, with nearly 60 percent of those surveyed believing it was headed in the wrong direction." Our observations and what we see of polling results suggest that this election is becoming quite nationalized.

A slight delay

We had been expecting to start parsing the Oregon campaign finance filings tomorrow. Well, we may start, but probably won't be finished.

A post on the secretary of state's site says why: "The Department of Administrative Services (DAS) has reported to the Secretary of State's Office that emails sent through the state system are being delayed in their delivery to various state agencies, including the Division of Elections. DAS is hoping to solve the problem as soon as possible. This technical problem may affect the Elections Division's receipt of electronic campaign finance reports that political committees are filing in advance of Monday's 5pm deadline for first pre-election reports for the General Election. Electronic filers are encouraged to file their electronic reports on a CD or diskette by Monday's 5pm deadline."

We'll be watching whenever. Some items of major itnerest should be turning up.