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Posts published in March 2008

Obama/Clinton in Oregon

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

And they said the Oregon presidential primary wasn't gonna matter. Well, who knows: It still might not, being about a couple of months away yet. But no presidential candidate in this year's race has been damaged by thinking ahead and presuming nothing.

So of a sudden, the invasion begins. Friday and into Saturday morning Obamamania hits, with candidate events in Portland, Salem, Eugene and (Saturday morning) in Medford. And we are told that will not be all. And if this contest still is seriously on in late May, there will be much more. On May 13, West Virginia holds a primary and Nebraska an advisory-only event; the next event will be the May 20 primaries in Oregon and Kentucky. That would put those two states alone in the spotlight for a full week.

Clinton will be in Oregon too, of course, though those appearances haven't been announced. The campaign did however name an Oregon state coordinator today, Clay Haynes, who has been a deputy national field director. (In the e-mail announcement, there was reiteration of support from Governor Ted Kulongoski and Representative Darlene Hooley.) And Kulongoski made a reference to an upcoming visit: "I look forward to traveling with her across the state . . ."

Oregon may wind up doing just fine with its May 20 primary date.

PROJECTIONS Okay, so who wins Oregon? As matters sit now, Obama, clearly. As in a good many other states, he has had a large and really grass-roots network pulling for him for many months, and now it will be activated. Looking at the race in Oregon today, it doesn't seem likely to be close. (You might also consider that its two main neighbors, Washington and Idaho, also were home to decisive Obama wins.)

Famous last words, of course . . .

On the Rammell run

We at Ridenbaugh Press are registered (in Oregon you do register by preference) as independents, and we have a soft spot for independent, non-aligned candidates. And some frustration, because almost never do these candidacies amount to much more than spots on a ballot and time-absorbers at the occasional debates where they're allowed to participate. Nearly all end with vote percentages in the one to two percent range. Few of these candidates seem to take their races much more seriously, for that matter, than most of the voters do.

Rex Rammell, by opting out of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate from Idaho and running as an independent instead - as he announced this week - has thrown himself into that category. It is true that he was almost certainly headed for a big loss in the Republican primary to Jim Risch, the lieutenant governor who is overwhelmingly the best known, most organized and best finances of the Republicans running for Senate. And it is true that by running as an independent, Rammell's candidacy stays alive until November. But his chances of ultimate election are no better. As an independent, he will lack the built-in organization, support and finance networks political parties provide, and those are no small advantages.

Reports on his announcement press conference say he offers three lines of argument for why he can win: "Jim Risch is too old to become a U.S. senator. You don't become a U.S. senator in the sunset of your career . . . I am a member of the LDS church, which is a significant portion of the electorate." And his (now former) ownership of an elk hunting ranch in eastern Idaho, which has been the subject of much of his involvement in politics so far and over which he and Risch came to battle while Risch was serving as governor in 2006.

Let's take these in reverse order. (more…)

A top-two how-to

Today's Peter Callaghan (Tacoma News Tribune) column has much the clearest, plainest description of the new Washington primary system - which we've called "Cajun" but is here referred to, as it probably should be, as "top two" - we've seen. Which will go into effect this year.

He likes it, by the way.

Obama coming to Oregon

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

The Barack Obama show has already come to Idaho (just ahead of Super Tuesday) and Washington (about a week later); now, Friday, it comes to Oregon.

Portland and Eugene events were announced late last night. New today is that by the noon hour (not sure how much earlier), all of the (free) tickets to the Portland event, at the Memorial Coliseum, were already gone, and a waiting list has been established.

The Eugene event Friday night, at the University of Oregon, doesn't require tickets and will be first-come, first-serve. You have to wonder what the lines will look like. (BTW, McArthur Court at Eugene holds just 9,100 people; will the venue be changed by Friday?)

ALSO There is also - though this didn't seem to be widely noted in the initial announcement - an additional event at Salem, at 1 p.m.

Pre-empting the field

Sean Cruz, the Portland Democratic Senate candidate (and aide to Senator Avel Gordly, who is vacating the seat he's seeking), has been making the point in recent emails that early-early endorsements by Portland political leaders has in some cases had the effect of discouraging fresh candidacies.

Today he cites a Portland Tribune anecdote suggesting just that. In it, veteran activist Jefferson Smith (well known from his work leading the Bus Project) appeared on an issue before the Portland City Council. This year, Smith has filed (as a Democrat) for the House seat being vacated by Speaker Jeff Merkley; he is the only candidate to file for it, which makes him about as good as elected. The Tribune writes,

Before he could speak, Commissioner Randy Leonard pointed out that no other candidates had filed in the race, meaning that Smith is a shoo-in.

“I want to take credit for that, because I endorsed you early on,” Leonard said, modestly.

Although Smith could have pointed out his years of political organizing, activism and networking, he instead replied, “I agree.”

Cruz comments: "So much for democracy and inclusion, and that commitment to diversity that one often hears from City Hall and the County Commission. One side of the mouth bespeaks grass roots, the other bald cronyism."

Washington goes Cajun

Looks like Washington will be heading away from primary elections - from party nominations as we have known them - with the new U.S. Supreme Court decision in Washington State Grange v. Washington State Republican Party, which overturned the 9th Circuit Court decision holding the "top two" method of winnowing candidates was facially unconstitutional.

"Because I–872 does not on its face impose a severe burden on political parties’ associational rights, and because respondents’ arguments to the contrary rest on factual assumptions about voter confusion that can be evaluated only in the context of an as-applied challenge, we reverse," the decision (delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas) reads. That presumably enacts (in effect) Initiative 872, passed in 2004 with about 60% support.

This approach (sometimes called "Cajun" because it was first widely used in Louisiana) doesn't really include at all a process for a political party to nominate a candidate. Instead, all candidates for a given office appear on the primary election ballot, and the top two winner, whoever they are and whatever party they belong to or don't, move on to the general election in November. That may mean two Democrats or two Republicans.

There may be some real implications in other states, notably in Idaho, where a number of Republicans have been pressing for a more-closed primary system. Closed-primary advocates have relied (understandably) on a 2000 Supreme Court decision in California Democratic Party v. Jones, where the court described nomination elections as “the crucial juncture at which the appeal to common principles may be translated into concerted action, and hence to political power in the community,” and specifically upheld the "freedom to exclude" as part of the freedom of association.

The new decision doesn't structure itself as a reversal of Jones, but rather a more fine-grained explication of it: "In Jones we noted that a nonpartisan blanket primary, where the top two vote-getters proceed to the general election regardless of their party, was a less restrictive alternative to California’s system because such a primary does not nominate candidates. . . . Petitioners are correct that we assumed that the nonpartisan primary we described in Jones would be constitutional. But that is not dispositive here because we had no occasion in Jones to determine whether a primary system that indicates
each candidate’s party preference on the ballot, in effect, chooses the parties’ nominees. That question is now squarely before us."

However: "unlike the California primary, the I–872 primary does not, by its terms, choose parties’ nominees. The essence of nomination—the choice of a party representative—does not occur under I–872. The law never refers to the candidates as nominees of any party, nor does it treat them as such. To the contrary, the election regulations specifically provide that the primary 'does not serve to determine the nominees of a political party but serves to winnow the number of candidates to a final list of two for the general election.'” In other words, it treats partisan elections as if they were non-partisan.

In a way, the court noted, it frees up the parties: "Whether parties nominate their own candidates outside the state-run primary is simply irrelevant. In fact, parties may now nominate candidates by whatever mechanism they choose because I–872 repealed Washington’s prior regulations governing party nominations."

It also dismisses the argument that voters might be confused by the process.

Now Washington has a primary system formally ensconced in the law and high-court approved, and Secretary of State Sam Reed says it will go into effect with this election, in August.

It changes the calculus. Our guess is that it could move Washington politics toward the center; but we'll all start to get sense of that in a period of mere months.

Rossi’s hire

This isn't the kind of insider political blog focusing on the shiftings and doings of political operatives within campaigns, but every so often a name jumps out and demands some attention. One recent case was the Joe Trippi involvement in the Oregon 5th District Steve Marks campaign. Now another to the north - Scott Howell, in the campaign of Republican Washington gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi.

He was there in Rossi's campaign in 2004, and that was a well-run campaign exceeding expectations (the conventional view being that Rossi would lose by a clear margin, and it turned into a photo-finish).

Howell has tracks over a bunch of campaigns around the country at this point, and as his site says his firm is in the upper ranks of Republican operations. He has some identification - and this is the key point for the Washington race - with really hardcore negative campaigning. Goldy on Horse's Ass argues "That Dino has hired Howell once again speaks volumes about Rossi and the the tone we can expect from his campaign."

Specifically? The Wikipedia article on him says, under the "controversies" section: "His early positive political advertisements, in which the candidates' children often appeared, gave way to his later aggressive campaigns, in which opponents have been compared to Osama Bin Laden. In October of 2006, Howell was revealed as the producer, with Terry Nelson, of the attack ad used against democratic Tennessee Senatorial candidate Rep. Harold Ford Jr. in which a white woman said that she had met Ford at a Playboy party. The ad concludes with the woman speaking to the camera and saying to Ford 'Call me.' Coverage of the controversy characterized Howell as a 'protegé' of Karl Rove."

Goldy adds, "Howell also produced an ad for Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn that accused Democrat Brad Carson of being soft on welfare while showing two black hands counting cash, and ran an ad in Virginia claiming Gov. Tim Kaine wouldn’t have used the death penalty against Hitler."

You could fairly call these among the slimiest campaign tactics of the last decade. Would it work in Washington? There's a good argument that it wouldn't; in the last cycle Evergreen voters seem to have reacted against hard-core negative campaigns. But we may all find out before long.

An early warning?

Toward the end of a report on Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi speaking at a Pierce County Lincoln Day event, a couple of short paragraphs jumped out.

Not Rossi's neat line about his name-recognition difference between now and 2004: “In 2004, a good percentage of the people in this state did think Dino Rossi was some kind of wine. And a screw-top, at that.”

Rather a comment by Representative Dave Reichert:

He told audience members that if they knew Republicans considering voting for Barack Obama for president, they should tell them to reconsider.

“He is a liberal, and he will steal money out of your wallets and purses,” Reichert said.

The mere reference to Republican Obama voters at a Lincoln Day dinner just kinda hits you. And sounds pretty suggestive.

ID filings: Week 1 wraps

Plenty yet to come in the Idaho candidate filings, which have another week to run. Many of the incumbents are accounted for, but it's still too early to see how many races will be shaping up.

We did take note of the candidate entry for a District 9 House seat of Judy Boyle of Midvale; she became known around the state as a visible natural resources assistant to former U.S. Representative Helen Chenoweth. (Yes, that gives you an idea of where she comes from on environmental matters.)

District 11 Representative Steven Thayn, a freshman who has become known as an out-on-the-edge social conservative, will be challenged in the Republican primary by former Representative Gary Bauer. And in nearby District 14 (the Eagle area) Senator Stan Bastian will be challenged in the primary (Republican of course) by Saundra McDavid, the growth critic who nearly was elected mayor of Eagle last fall. That could be interesting.

More as the races develop . . .

OR filings: Disparity but hard slogging

Every filing for Oregon's 60 state House seats matters, when you have a partisan balance as close as 31-29, which is where Oregon's is. Republicans are a tantalizing two seats away from outright recapture of the chamber they held for 16 years, and Democrats just five seats from a majority strong enough to enact financial measures without Republican assistance - a caucus shortfall that caused them no end of grief this term.

With the filing in, how does the picture look?

In sum, it doesn't look good for major change, unless a political tide even greater than 2006's sweep through in November.

Some of the gross numbers bode better for the Democrats than for the Republicans. Democrats filed a good many more candidates for House seats (all of which are up for election this year) than Republicans did; Republicans filed to file for 19 Democratic-held seats (two of those open seats), while Democrats ceded just a half dozen.

This has some significance all on its own, because so many Democrats are freed up from fundraising and campaigning to go help their brethren. And these are in areas not far from Republican districts where Democrats logically will be working hard. Four of the giveaways to Republicans are on the very-Republican east side. And there's this: While Republican leader Bruce Hanna will face Democratic opposition in the fall, Democratic leader Dave Hunt will not face a Republican. (Hanna will be heavily favored for re-election, of course, but he will be occupied with his own race.)

And the Republicans gave up on a number possible contests that might have worked. The two Edwardses, Chris and David (districts 14 and 30) just took over Republican districts last cycle, as did Brian Clem in district 21; they've shown themselves to be skilled candidate, true, but the lack of a challenge to any of them is surprising. It's true that Jefferson Smith (of the Bus Project fame) was a strong favorite from the moment he announced to succeed House Speaker Jeff Merkley in his district; but this is an open seat, and logically should have been challenged if only for the symbolism of it. No challenge either to some of the coastal and more rural Democrats (Jean Cowan, Deborah Boone).

Given all the give-ups, it's hard to see where the Republicans take back even as many as two seats.

But when you get to specifics, counting Democratic takeover prospects beyond maybe a couple isn't a lot easier.

So what are the jump-out races - the places where the partisan balance will be decided? (more…)

Bunn to the House – a different House . . .

Jim Bunn

Jim Bunn

We'll get into the Oregon House filings generally shortly, but first attention has to be drawn to the filing that most specifically caught our eyes (and not just because this is in our home district).

The district is 24, taking in most of Yamhill County and a precinct or two of Polk, a historically Republican district still leaning that way but by smaller margins than formerly. The seat is held by Republican Donna Nelson, now departing and heading for a run at the county commission (which is nonpartisan in Yamhill). Nelson had been winning by substantial margins but in 2006 she was nearly overtaken by Democrat Sal Peralta. This year, another prospectively strong Democrat, Al Hansen of McMinnville (a well-connected former council member in the district's main city), is in; the odds initially favor Republican retention but the seat should be watched closely.

That's the setup for the Republican situation, which until this week had two competitors, both from the small city of Yamhill: restaurant owner Jim Weidner and carpenter Ed Glad. Neither has much visibility around the district, though Glad has been involved with political activities across the fence, and Weidner seems to be positioned a little more toward the right. Our sense is that Weidner logically would run stronger in the Republican primary, but a lot would depend on the scale of campaigning each might undertake. Or so matters seemed to sit.

But all the participants were taken unawares by what happened this week: The entry of Jim Bunn into the Republican primary. This is a development worth some attention outside the district, because the Oregon 5th U.S House district will be a hotly-fought property this year - and Jim Bunn was its last Republican representative.

A shorthand version of the story . . . (more…)

WA Xgr: Over and out


At Olympia

As relative quiet settles on Olympia's capitol mall with legislative sine die, a moment for reflection on what this year's exercise in Washington lawmaking may mean for the state and its politics.

It was not a dramatic session; a good deal of the more dramatic ideas (good and bad) never got very far. It did not change the face of the state. But some pieces of activity may make a difference in some corners. (Home finance and gay rights may stand out in that category.) Politically, it can't be said to be a wildly persuasive calling card for Democrats heading into election, but it also gave Republicans not a lot of useful ammunition. It may be a harbinger of a new political dynamic, however, as Democrats internalized their sweeping majority status enough to start splitting and cracking their caucuses, and feeling some comfort with rejecting (in at least one significant case peremptorily) proposals from a governor of their own party.

Seattle Sonics fans may be aggravated that legislators turned down a public finance proposal team owners wanted. But that was a deliberate choice, and our guess is that it was a political winner.

Despite the large Democratic majorities, "Democratic" proposals didn't get an automatic pass, and a number of Republicans walked away thinking they got better than they might have expected. Consider the item in the David Postman blog on how Republicans representing some of the most flood-beaten parts of the state say they were well satisfied with what they got from Democratic leaders and Governor Chris Gregoire. (House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis: “The governor’s office was great to work with.”) That significantly undercuts Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi's blasts at poor governance from Gregoire and the Democrats.

Or consider Tim Eyman, who reported in his email blasts that, while a lot of bad stuff (from his perspective) surfaced in the legislature, little of it got far. He concluded, "Working together, we beat back a lot of bad stuff. Good job." Not an endorsement of the Democrats, of course, but recognition that his side wasn't simply rolled.

So Washington politics now smooths on into the filing time . . .