Somewhere in the latter chapters of the textbook on Politics 101, in big, bold letters, you'll find a statement much like one we've repeated to any number of challenger candidates seeking to oust an incumbent, and one cleanly put in a comments section today by blogger Kari Chisholm:
"Personally, I think you gotta convince voters to fire the incumbent before you get a chance to convince to hire you to replace 'em."
That is nearly always (with the rare, fluky exception of an incumbent's complete upfront self-destruction) true. Voters continue to do what they've done before unless given a strong reason not to; even then, changing course is tough. (Quick: When was an Oregon U.S. senator last defeated for re-election? Right: Four decades ago, in 1968, Democrat Wayne Morse, by Republican Robert Packwood, who was not known as a gentle player.)
It is why there's some heartburn among some Democrats over the new quote from Cathy Shaw, a former mayor of Ashland and a campaign associate of state Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, who is considering a run for the U.S. Senate against Republican Gordon Smith. Shaw said, in an interview for the Ashland Daily Tidings, that Bates has never gone negative against an opponent, and wouldn't this time either: "As for running an aggressive race, Shaw said Bates 'never has, and never will' run a negative campaign. 'He just doesn't do that,' Shaw said. 'People say it wins elections, but it doesn't.'"
Still - people will have to be given a good reason to fire Smith from his job in the Senate, or they won't, and a challenger will simply be an afterthought. So our core thought here is the same as Chisholm's: "I'd love to hear what Cathy Shaw, or better yet, Alan Bates means by 'going negative'."