Writings and observations

Brian Boquist

Brian Boquist

Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson

We’re entering a rapid early shakethrough on candidates for the suddenly-open Oregon 5th, to be vacated by six-term Democrat Darlene Hooley, and some of the first focus seems to be arriving among the Republicans.

Mike Erickson, the Clackamas businessman who opposed Hooley in 2006 (spending a pile of money and getting clobbered nonetheless), had been making moves toward a rematch, had indicated interest (though there had been some talk of a state treasurer run), and now seems to have all but declared his candidacy for the newly open seat. Understandable, and also understandable if he was hoping that would mean a quick gathering of support from other Republicans.

Some support he’ll doubtless get, but he almost certainly will not have the field alone.

Highly interesting was today’s report that state Representative Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, who had been readying himself for a run for state Senate, is “looking at the 5th District, and dusting off campaign plans, but no decisions will be made until March” – meaning, until the legislative session adjourns.

Which on its face sounds inconclusive until you read the rest of the story: “He said he would not be deterred by the plans of Mike Erickson . . . Erickson was making the rounds of the Capitol on Monday in the company of Vance Day, a Salem lawyer who is the Oregon Republican Party chairman.”

In related developments, Kevin Mannix (twice for governor, twice for attorney general, many initiatives) is on the fence about whether to run. Nor, of course, are these three the only options; at least a dozen other names are floating around.

Looks like a highly watchable primary. And we don’t even have a clear picture yet of what the Democrats will come up with.

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Luke Esser

Luke Esser

The Washington Republican caucus situation gets ever stranger, even as new information comes to light. (A little like the plot of Lost.)

There’s a highly useful post on Sound Politics from a Republican caucus participant describing how the process went, and why the much-discussed results Saturday night mean “nothing.” Most precisely, in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses, precinct participants were voting not for president but for delegates to the county convention (who in turn would vote for delegates to the state, etc., etc.). In the Democratic caucuses, backers of Clinton, Obama or otherwise split up within each precinct, and county convention delegates were chosen proportionately from within each group. in that way, you could extrapolate support for the various candidates which should play out, at least fairly closely, all the way up to the national delegate level. Apparently, it didn’t work quite the same way on the Republican side:

“In my caucus, and in many others in my pooled caucus, presidential preference never even came up. Only two people wanted the two delegate spots, so we nominated them and elected them. At the precinct caucus next to ours, there were far more participants than delegates, but a similar story: they all knew each other and just said, ‘well, who wants to go?,’ and they picked two to nominate and that was it. Presidential preference never even entered into the equation. Other caucuses were different: a few active Republicans at a precinct caucus a few tables away didn’t get elected, because they were outnumbered by Huckabee supporters. So to portray this as an election for presidential candidates is a complete misunderstanding, worsened by the fact that your stated presidential preference isn’t even binding.”

From that – and we’re not especially doubting this clear description of the situation – anyone who showed up at the Republican caucus expecting to weigh in on the presidential nomination had been misled. And yet, about half of the delegates – pledged delegates – to the national convention from Washington were supposed to be selected through the precinct/county caucus structure. How could that be done if the delegates weren’t being apportioned by candidate?

Equally, how could the state party rationally have reported at all results by candidate that afternoon and evening (and up to the present), as they have done?

The Sound Politics description suggests that it doesn’t really matter whether any more counting of the McCain/Huckabee/Paul results is done or not. But it doesn’t explain why the results, having been started to the 87% mark, was abruptly halted, with no indication whether it would ever be completed. (Which the party now seems, anxiously, to say will be done. Eventually.)

And if the voting was as content-free as the Sound Politics post indicates, why did state Chairman Luke Esser deliver his pronouncement – only an analysis, we hear today – that Arizona Senator John McCain had won? Even apart from the closeness of the race, how could he have had reliable figures for any analysis?

This thing gets stranger as it goes.

ANOTHER VANTAGE And this, from I Am Coyote at NW Republican, from his viewpoint in north-central Washington: “Apparently Esser’s premature declaration is more about HIS preoccupation with the media than anything else. I know for a fact that Esser was calling around to various county chairs, pressuring them to give him some kind of loose vote count so that he could make a declaration. And I know at least one county chair who said ‘you are NOT getting my results until I have counted and certified them.’ So Esser made his declaration without the certified results and in the process has opened him and his office up to the Huckabee people putting pressure on him and… AND from what I have heard there are Ron Paul people also mad as hell that Esser and the gang have tossed some of their votes as well.”

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Hadn’t seen much reference to this, but (and a hat tip to a correspondent who suggested it) the closure of Idaho Senator Larry Craig‘s political action committee, Alliance for the West, seems worth a note here.

Federal Election Commission reports show the PAC as zeroed out, with no debts and no cash on hand, at the end of last year. It spent $127,909 during the year, much of it for consulting and for fundraising (the latter seeming a little odd). It contributed to four Republican senators (Pete Domenici, not running for re-election; Susan Collins; John Sununu; and Norm Coleman) and $5,000 to the Idaho Republican Party. Which, according to Roll Call, sent the money back to Craig; after which Craig, in turn, re-sent it. Who has the money now – presumably the Idaho Republicans – isn’t totally clear.

Roll Call also said the PAC “received PAC contributions worth $2,500 each from Federal Express on Oct. 2, Entergy on Nov. 7 and Duke Energy on Dec. 6.”

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So ironic: After all the many, many complaints by Washington state Republicans about vote counting in the state – after the super-close 2004 gubernatorial race – that the single most peculiar vote-counting situation the state has seen in years should come in the state’s Republican Party caucuses.

It didn’t seem peculiar at first, though the results were of high interest: A thin lead swapped back and forth by Arizona Senator (and widely presumed Republican presidential nominee) John McCain, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, with Representative Ron Paul in a respectably close third place. Just as we were all waiting for the last of the results to come in and nail the situation, vote counting stopped, at 87.2%. A super-thin lead of 1.8% by McCain was then in place. State Chair Luke Esser called McCain the winner in Washington. And there matters essentially have stood – incomplete and seemingly inexplicably so.

The 2004 election situation was weird mainly because it was so very close. This one is weird because – well, we’re still not even sure why. Maybe there’s a good reason, but we’ve not been able to track one down yet.

Huckabee’s campaign has, understandably, been on to the situation, and is lawyering up. From a press release today:

The Huckabee Presidential Campaign will be exploring all available legal options regarding the dubious final results for the state of Washington State Republican precinct caucuses, it was announced today. Campaign Chairman Ed Rollins issued the following statement:

“The Huckabee campaign is deeply disturbed by the obvious irregularities in the Washington State Republican precinct caucuses. It is very unfortunate that the Washington State Party Chairman, Luke Esser, chose to call the race for John McCain after only 87 percent of the vote was counted. According to CNN, the difference between Senator McCain and Governor Huckabee is a mere 242 votes, out of more than 12,000 votes counted—with another 1500 or so votes, apparently, not counted. That is an outrage.

“In other words, more than one in eight Evergreen State Republicans have been disenfranchised by the actions of their own party. This was an error in judgment by Mr. Esser. It was Mr. Esser’s duty to oversee a fair vote-count process. Washington Republicans know, from bitter experience in the 2004 gubernatorial election, the terrible results that can come from bad ballot-counting.

“Frankly, I am disappointed in the way that Mr. Esser has handled this urgent matter. So I call upon Mr. Esser and his colleagues to cooperate fully with the Huckabee campaign—and all Republicans, everywhere, who care about honest and transparent vote-counting—to make sure that every vote is counted and that all Republicans in Washington have the chance to make their votes count. Attempts by our campaign to contact Mr. Esser have been unsuccessful. Our lawyers will be on the ground in Washington State soon, and we look forward to sitting down with Mr. Esser to evaluate this process, to see why the count took so long, and why the vote-counting was stopped prematurely.

Will this be an issue when the Washington primary – which will select half of the presidential delegates from the state – come around? That may depend on what Esser and other party officials do next.

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Jeff Kropf

Evergreen High School; outside signage/Stapilus

Count the outside signage for presidential candidates Saturday, around Clark County general and especially around the caucus centers, and you’d figure Ron Paul was the overwhelming selection. Even near the Republican caucus areas: At Evergreen High School, where a half-dozen precincts were caucusing, Paul had a table staffed by five or six enthusiastic volunteers, more than ready to pass out literature and tout their candidate.

Of which was a little misleading, of course. Paul was spending Saturday explaining how he was planning to run for re-election for the U.S. House as a Republican, even while somehow remaining active as a presidential candidate. Turnout in the Republican caucus was relatively small, maybe a third (to our observation) in the Democratic, though there were good reasons for that – a nearly decided GOP presidential contest, and the fact that Republicans in Washington get a second apple bite, a meaningful vote in the upcoming primary election. For Democrats, where the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton contest is still quite live, the rules are different: The primary ballots mean nothing; the decision came out of this afternoon’s caucuses.

In Clark County, a bunch of locations (mainly schools) houses caucus gatherings, where a half dozen or so precincts each were gathered to vote and select delegates to the county convention, which in turn would select delegates to the state convention, which – that’s right – will select delegates to the national. Which makes this extremely preliminary except for this: The number of national delegates Obama and Clinton get from Washington will be extrapolated directly from these precinct caucuses, which made them significant indeed.

The overall picture is that Obama won all three states up for balloting today – Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana. None of these were a surprise, but Washington was assumed to be the most competitive of the three. After all, Hillary Clinton had the long-time support of much of the core Washington Democratic establishment, endorsements from most of the major Democratic political figures in the states (key recent exception being Governor Chris Gregoire). Louisiana turned out to be the closest, and Washington is a blowout – with nearly all precincts reporting as this is written, the percentage is 67.5% Obama to 31.2% Clinton. (Obama took every county in the state but one, Douglas east of the Cascades, and the results weren’t even close in more than two or three others.)

After watching and listening for a while at Evergreen, some of the pieces underlying that seem clear.

One recurring message, which seemed surprising given the intensity of the campaign but was certainly persistent, was the indecision: A lot of people arrived with their votes not yet locked in. The torn even seemed to include the person helping direct voters to the party events – state Representative Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, who said she had high regard for both candidates and was torn between them. Quite a lot seemed to come down to what people saw and heard once they actually arrived at the caucus: Who had the strongest arguments, and the passion.

Enter the organizations. Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns were tasked with the job of tracking what was going on precinct by precinct and providing help wherever needed. (The campaign people apparently weren’t supposed to actually get involved inside the precinct sessions, but could stay close by to monitor and do whatever was needed to help.) Watching some of this, you could see how the people with the answers – even to something as simple as, “Do you know where the water fountain is?” – have an immediate edge. And from what we could see, the Obama people had the larger, more thorough organization. The precincts were covered, and the caucus center was watched, carefully. You could see the Obama people (some of them wore campaign t-shirts) tending to the room in detail and rapid fire. You need help with something? The Obama people were ready to take care of it. The Clinton campaign was there too, the Clinton signs were around the room and the supporters were visible, but our feel was that it was decisively overmatched in organizational effort.

None of this is to discount what the candidates themselves bring to their case. On Obama’s side, we heard the clear references to the energy he brings, the high passion of his supporters, as something hard to turn away from. And the discussion centered clearly on which candidate was preferred; among these Democrats, at least, there was little discussion critical of the other side.

But it wasn’t hard to figure out which way this was going, well before the results hit the airwaves.

AMONG THE REPUBLICANS As noted, we watched the Republican activity less, but given the eventual results maybe should have paid more attention. Our guess was that Arizona Senator John McCain, now all but assumed to be the Republican nominee, would take a decisive majority – especially after his visit to the Seattle area this week – alongside some loyal Paul votes, and that would be that.

Except that wasn’t that. At this writing, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee had a thin lead over McCain, with turnout in the Republican caucuses running higher than expected. Actually, all three are competitive; at the current level of returns (37% of precincts), it was Huckabee 26.4%, McCain 22.9% and Paul 20.3% (and the already-ousted Mitt Romney collecting 18%). Among other things, so much for the logic that Hackabee can only win in southern or border states.

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Last night, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton arrived at Pier 30 in Seattle for a late-added campaign appearance. It was successful, and enthusiastic, drawing about 5,000 people.

After that start, she hit another event this morning at Tacoma, speaking at the University of Puget Sound to health and nursing students and others on health care. Again, she did more than respectably, drawing close to 5,000 people to her appearance, with local names like former Governor Gary Locke and Senator Maria Cantwell in tow. She put in a solid day’s worth of campaigning in Washington; after some early indicators that she might forget about this caucus state, she wound up making a serious personal effort.

Then there was her opponent, Barack Obama, who has a shorter list of endorsees, and made just one appearance (though his wife Michelle was scheduled to appear also in Spokane).

He was set to speak at the KeyArena at 1 p.m. By 11, all 17,000 seats were filled (some reports have it higher), and thousands more people were in line trying to get in. (Obama eventually spoke as well to about 10,000 people who were outside in the cold.) And when the event started, it featured a dramatic endorsement of Obama by Washington’s most visible till-now holdout in the primary – Governor Chris Gregoire.

Numbers from the campaign, less than a day before caucus time.

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Aday after largely locking down the Republican presidential nomination, John McCain schedules himself for a stop in – Washington? What would be the reason for that?

Maybe to keep his two remaining, but smaller-scale, opponents – Mike Huckabee nd Ron Paul – from scoring any sort of a PR win. McCain has his hands full trying to avoid rebellion among some categories of conservatives; he now needs to keep his win, won.

The campaign says the “meet & greet” is tomorrow at the downtown Seattle Westin at 6 p.m., press setup most of an hour prior to.

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Virtually the whole of Idaho’s Republican Party, an overwhelming roster of its top elective and party officials, was lined up behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney – he’d have had the state in the primary bag if he’d lasted till May. As it is, the field has narrowed to Arizona Senator John McCain with an an overwhelming (probably uncatchable) lead, with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and Representative Ron Paul still out there. So what’s an Idaho Republican to do?

Bst guess here is that they follow the lead of Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch – a loyal Romney man till now – and switch over to McCain, he being the presumptive nominee.

But we do couch that as a best guess. McCain isn’t quite an Idaho kinda Republican – at least not as Idaho Republicans can be reasonably described in this decade. (A decade two or three ago may be another story.) Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman has collected some of the many anti-McCain blasts from around the area. One such is from social conservative Bryan Fischer, who based his around the re-nicked “Good-bye Old Party.”

Will be curious to see if some block of Idaho Republicans (the Steven Thayn crowd, for example) throw in with Huckabee, or maybe if Ron Paul actually picks up a little more steam. Overall, though, the ever-pragmatic Risch probably is a good indicator most of the establishment will, albeit unenthustically, migrate to McCain.

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Darlene Hooley

Darlene Hooley

Representative Darlene Hooley‘s surprise announcement this morning that she’s not running for re-election gives Oregon something it hasn’t had for years: A truly wide open U.S. House contest.

There didn’t seem to be any very specific impetus for the announcement. She said her health was good (a consideration at 68). She has won her last few races convincingly – though not overwhelmingly, her last win clocking in at about 54% – and looked in strong shape for this year. Her campaign treasury has an ample $467,540 on hand.

But her departure is a national rarity this year: A Democratic retirement from a seat that credibly could wind up in the hands of either party. But she pointed out specifically, in early news reports, that this year would be a good time politically – for her party – for a change, since 2008 looks like a strong Democratic year. She may be right that the timing tilts the field a bit.

So what’s the picture in the Oregon 5th?

Oregon 5th

Look at the map and the first thing that jumps out is its odd shape, what with the two coastal counties (which tend Democratic) and the remote areas to the east in the Cascades (which tend more Republican). But the core of this district is close to Interstate 5, from the southern edge of Portland in the north down the road through and south of Salem. The bulk of the voters are in western Clackmas County, within a few miles of the Lake Oswego-West Linn-Oregon City-Canby/Wilsonville area, and a few miles to the south, clustered around Salem.

This is competitive territory: Look at the legislative delegation for this area, and you’ll find a fair roster both of Democrats and Republicans. Let’s pause here for a moment, and list the legislators whose districts take in a fair chunk of the 5th:

bullet Senators: Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay (5th district); Frank Morse, R-Corvallis (8th); Fred Girod, R-Stayton (9th); Jackie Winters, R-Salem (10th); Peter Courtney, D-Salem (11th); Gary George, R-Newberg (12th); Larry George, R-Sherwood (13th); Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose (16th); Kurt Schrader, D-Canby (20th). Only Girod, Winters and Courtney live within the 5th. That’s four Democrats, five Republicans.

bullet Representatives Jean Cowan, D-Newport (10th), Andy Olson, R-Albany (15th), Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis (16th), the seat which has been held by Fred Girod (just named to the Senate), R-Stayton (17th); Vic Gilliam, R-Silverton (18th); Kevin Cameron, R-Salem (19th); Vicki Berger, R-Salem (20th); Brian Clem, D-Salem (21st); Betty Komp, D-Woodburn (22nd); Brian Boquist, R-Dallas (23rd); Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer (25th); Jerry Krummel, R-Wilsonville (26th); Deborah Boone, D-Cannon Beach (32nd); Scott Bruun, R-West Linn (37th); Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego (38th); Wayne Scott, R-Canby (39th); Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone (40th); Linda Flores, R-Clackamas (51st). That’s seven Democrats, 11 Republicans. (As with the senators, of course, only some of them live in the 5th U.S. House district.)

On the basis of local legislative elections, that gives a small edge in the area to Republicans, although you have to weigh one other factor: Republicans have been losing seats in this area of late. This collection of legislative seats was a lot more Republican when Hooley entered Congress than it is today. Just in this area, the Democrats increased their House roster by two in 2006 (Cowan and Clem both beat Republican incumbents).

Add it all up, and this could be anyone’s race. The quality of the candidates and campaigns, together with the political atmosphere this fall, will spell the difference. For Republicans, this does at least represent a realistic pickup possibility, though in this year that still may not be easy.

Candidates? Haven’t had a lot of time to surface. There has been some talk that Hooley’s 2006 opponent, businessman Michael Erickson, who spent a lot of (mostly his own) money in the race, might try again. Might be tough, though, since the current FEC reports say his campaign is $1,575,995 in debt (probably most or all to himself).

State Representative Boquist, who twice ran unsuccessfully against Hooley, said earlier this year he will run for the state Senate, in a district where the odds clearly favor him. Might he, with a couple of House terms under his belt and a strong political base, give the 5th another look?

For that matter, which among the legislators in this district might be thinking about a step up to Congress?

Here’s a story to be written. There’ll be a lot of interest in the Oregon 5th before long.

THE D FIELD? We had wondered if there was a Democratic prospect already lined up, and apparently there is: Paul Evans, noted in early reports as husband of Hooley’s chief of staff. More important, Evans is a rising Democratic star in Oregon, maybe the most promising Democratic legislative candidate in 2006 who didn’t win, losing to a very popular Republican senator, Jackie Winters. Evans’ story is compelling: A volunteer fireman, educator, former mayor of Monmouth, a veteran Army special-ops officer with several tours in Iraq and the Middle East behind him. And – we’ve watched him in action – a strong and compelling candidate as well. If the reports are right and he enters, he might clear the field on the Democratic side.

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Now that Super Tuesday is over, you may be wondering (or you may be avoiding wondering) what’s coming next. This from the front web page of the Washington state Democrats may help enlighten:

Event update:
– Barack Obama will visit Seattle on Friday
– Bill Clinton will visit Seattle on Thursday, Tacoma on Saturday
– Michelle Obama will visit Spokane on Friday.

One other report has Bill Clinton in Spokane as well. All this is not, obviously, coincidental or random. Washington’s party caucuses – both Republicans and Democrats – convene at 1 p.m. on Saturday. These will be precinct caucuses (as in Iowa) rather than county caucuses (as in Idaho), and the results from them will be used to select the presidential nominees. There is a presidential primary on February 19, and state officials are encouraging participation in it, but it will not count toward the Democratic nomination, and only in part toward the Republican.

On the Republican side, Arizona Senator John McCain probably enters the process as the likely winner. He has some military-related base in Washington, and neither of his (still current) opponents, Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, have in Washington the demographics that have worked well for them elsewhere.

That said, the Seattle Times suggests this: “On the Republican side, Sen. John McCain — the biggest winner Tuesday — still has no paid staff in Washington and no plans to come here before the GOP caucuses. Instead, his campaign appears more focused on the state’s Feb. 19 primary, where he has a better chance of pulling in independent voters. Could that open the door in Washington for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had a surprisingly strong showing Tuesday? Or could this be the state where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney revives his sagging campaign?”

Meaning, might we see a last-minute push from Romney or Huckabee? So far, no indications of Republican candidate campaign stops in Washington this week; but that could yet happen.

On the Democratic side, Obama has been organizing in Washington for some months, and Clinton’s efforts have been visible but less deeply organized – a loose parallel to what happened in Idaho and other caucus states where Obama has done well. And they’ve been at it a while. Almost exactly a year ago today, a nascent Obama organization in Seattle touted a meetup for more than 100 organizers, and said “the Seattle Meetup for Obama has grown to over 150 members and is now the largest chapter of its kind in the country . . .” It has grown considerably since then, and it has an impressively long list of activities and events planned in the next few days. There are also a bunch of county Obama organizations. (Check the Whatcom County site, for example.) And Obama has endorsements from the dailies in Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver.

At Horse’s Ass, Goldy’s take on this: “The challenge for Obama supporters is not simply to win this Saturday but to win big, which in a caucus scenario requires both turnout and persuasion. ”

Clinton has some solid pluses too, including the superior roster of big-name endorsees – Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, former Governor Gary Locke, Lieutenant Governor Brad Owen, Representatives Norm Dicks and Jay Inslee, King County Executive Ron Sims and Snohomish Executive Aaron Reardon. (Most of these, by the way, are superdelegates.) States with a strong and long-evolved Democratic structure have done better for Clinton, and Washington is one of those. And Paul Berendt, a former state Democratic chair newly on the Clinton team, describes in Washington “a profound feminist ethic in our Democratic politics” which could help the New York senator.

The Washington state Democrats did conduct a straw poll from November 29 to December 14, but it’s not much help in figuring this out. First place in it went to Dennis Kucinich, now out of the race, with 1,083 votes, and second place to John Edwards, now out, with 1,042. (They did a good organizing job for the straw, you gotta admit.) Obama got 960 and Clinton 761 – so, no results we can really draw to here.

Idaho was a definitive sweep. Washington looks tilted to Obama – the odds seem to be with him – but the state still has the look of something that will be hard-fought, not swept.

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