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The Novick evolution

Steve Novick

Steve Novick

The nascent Steve Novick campaign for the Senate picked up some useful support this week. During an interview on the Thom Hartmann talk show on KPOJ, the host disclosed he had donated to Novick’s campaign and urged listeners to do likewise, as some evidently did. Not a bad early hit.

Today, he picked up backing from a clutch of Oregon attorneys, a substantial group – a useful starting point. Not everyone in the Democratic sector, apparently, is holding back and waiting for a better-known figure to enter the Democratic contest against Republican Gordon Smith next year.

Count these among indications that Novick is developing his campaign methodically, alongside demonstration of his trademark communications chops. On the attorney endorsement: “And yes, I know what the Republicans will say. ‘Novick’s in bed with the trial lawyers,’ they’ll say. And I say to them: ‘I’m proud of my friends. They help real people. They protect consumers. They fight for justice. Who are you in bed with? The cigarette companies, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the criminally careless manufacturers.'” No Democratic defensiveness here (that being a lesson some other Democrats might learn from).

The Senate announcement by Novick, who has deep history as a Democratic issues and communications operative (his resume apart from that is worth a review, too), came with the feel of something akin to a demonstration project – it was preceded by a provocative cover story in Willamette Week (“If I Ran”), which in the main consisted of the case against Smith – or maybe like a prompt to others to run. Whatever Novick’s original thinking (his seriousness about taking out Smith never has been in doubt), it is now a perfectly serious campaign, and Novick could well be the Democratic nominee next year.

The fact of all those Democratic turndowns – Kitzhaber, DeFazio, Blumenauer, Kulongoski, Hooley, Wu, Castillo and more (too many to recite full names here) – is part of the reason, but only part. (Yes, there are other elected officials who remain prospects; none sound right now like probable entrants.)

Another factor is the flip side, that Novick, unlike any other substantial figure, has personally shown up in the arena – he’s running a race. He’s actively raising money and building support networks. Yes, some of the other prospects who have already run campaigns before could have entered with a head start on some of this; but they’re not running, are they?

Novick could become an intriguing mix of political tough and personal appealing. Over lunch Tuesday he outlined some of his campaign steps so far and some of his campaign subject matter, the issues substance, and is nothing if not clear about that. His campaign rhetoric can come across, as indicated in the quote above, as take-no-prisoners. But Novick personally did not seem hard-edged; he may emerge as a likable personality with an unusual and compelling story. This isn’t a given. Novick doesn’t, in some ways, sound or act like a candidate. (You still get a feeling that you’re talking to a very savvy political pro, more than a candidate.) But that may come; as he settles into the role of candidate, probably will.

Leading to the other factor: Time. Novick is getting started early, he’s the only one who has, and time is a real, valuable, currency in campaigns. A better-known candidate entering this race in, say, late summer may turn out to be behind the curve. Novick is pulling his race together, and after a certain point other candidates may find themselves too far behind.

Two months ago our snap thought about the Novick campaign was that it was an interesting effort in the absence of a “bigger/better known” candidate, who probably would soon own the field. Looks now entirely possible that in the months ahead Novick may become that candidate.

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