Archive for May, 2008

May 24 2008

Caution signs

Published by under Washington

Quite a bit to beware of in the business of not only fundraising, but even simply speaking to a group. Certain kinds of groups, at least.

Case in point here is Washington gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi‘s talk this week to a group once called the Christian Businessmen’s Connection, currently Connecting Business and the Marketplace with Christ. (You get the idea either way.) Rossi spoke to them at a Wednesday luncheon.

Catch, according to the Tacoma News Tribune‘s political blog, is that the group is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, around which the law is quite restrictive when it comes to politics. The ban says they are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” Even if no money was raised for a candidate.

The blog quoted Daniel Borochoff, president of American Institute of Philanthropy, as saying, “Yeah, they’re not supposed to be doing that.”

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May 23 2008

At the precinct level

Published by under Idaho

The current battle over open vs. closed primaries in Idaho is a party structure battle – a conflict between people active in the state’s Republican Party. That in-party set-to is having effect: It could change the way primary voters in the state, vote. Put another way, control of a party’s structure can have real effect, in the type and personality of candidates, the way they express themselves, the structure of elections. And eventually, even on the laws we live by.

This is by way of saying that one of the key set of races on the ballot in Idaho on Tuesday will be those hardly noticed outside the party structure, the contests for precinct committee chair. (College of Idaho professor Jasper LiCalzi is one of the few in Idaho recently to reference it.)

Most often, parties struggle most just to get someone to serve in all those spots, and often fail to get them all filled. For those reasons among others, Idaho Democrats aren’t facing many conflicts on the precinct level. But in some parts of Idaho, the Republicans have significant contests going on. Who fills those precinct spots, voted on precinct by precinct, will affect county parties, which in turn will affect the state party and state convention. And among Republicans, at least a couple of things are happening. There’s a struggle over the primary status, between the more establishment group and those for whom closed primary advocate Rod Beck has been a spokesman. At the same time, there’s an insurgency out there (probably small, but maybe larger than we think) for presidential contender Ron Paul.

In Ada County, we count 40 Republican precinct contests, meaning in more than a quarter of all the county’s precincts. Beck himself is in one of those precinct contests (precinct 28). Some of these Ada contests have drawn three or four candidates in a since precinct. There are, we should note, far fewer in Canyon County, only about five contests there.

At a time when the Republican Party nationally is at something of a crossroads, the Idaho Republican Party could be on the edge of remarking itself too. One way or another.

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May 23 2008

Selective information

Published by under Idaho

Jim Risch

Jim Risch

The trick in evaluating statements – from print ads and TV spots to brochures – from political campaigns isn’t in searching out the lies. Candidates, at least the smarter ones, don’t do a lot of that: Lies are too easily uncovered. What happens a lot more often (and you hear it daily in the political radio talk shows) is selective release of information, telling you just part of the story.

So Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco isn’t right in saying, as he does of probable Republican nominee Jim Risch‘s new tax-focused video spot, that “It’s a lie.” But it isn’t entirely honest, either.

In 2006 Risch served as governor and called a special legislative session to address taxes, especially rising property taxes. Against some odds, and with considerable skill, he persuaded legislators to pass a bill addressing that. His video spot says that “As governor, I delivered the largest tax cut in the state’s history,” on property taxes, and this year supported a grocery tax cut as well. (Check out the spot; it’s neatly made.)

This is accurate, even if the largest-in-state-history part is debatable, depending on what sort of metric you use.

What he doesn’t say, and what you have to know to evaluate this properly, is that the tax cut was effectively paid for with a sales tax increase – the reason Idahoans now pay six cents on the dollar instead of five.

Even that doesn’t perfectly explain the situation, because after accounting for both tax changes, a cut of somewhere around $30 million probably resulted. (The chief state economist, Mike Ferguson, was quoted in the Idaho Statesman: “In general, looking at overarching policy, [tax shift] is probably closer to the truth.”) Except – here’s round four – that some tax deductions for property taxes probably were lost in the shift, so the actual number is probably less than that. And – round five – that the tax change hit different people very differently: Some people wind up paying more taxes, and some less, depending on their income, spending and the value of the property they own.

We have no idea how you properly incorporate all that into a 30-second spot. One more reason not to settle for what you learn from the spots spun out by a candidate, any candidate.

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May 22 2008

The unity show

Published by under Oregon

democrats unity

Senate nominee Jeff Merkley (left) talks with House Majority Leader Dave Hunt/Stapilus

The Oregon Democratic unification road show did its thing this morning, pointing up the key participants in such a gathering: The primary election losers. It is their joining in, after all, that becomes the key random factor internally.

Just that was rendered finely clear on the Republican side this morning, as the Oregonian reported on the fallout from the GOP contest in the U.S. House 5th district. There, businessman Mike Erickson won the primary but may lose the war, as important components of his own party – starting with his main opponent, Kevin Mannix, and going on to Senator Gordon Smith and Representative Greg Walden among others – declined to endorse, and warmly welcome him to the fold. (They had their reasons, which should be evident to readers of earlier posts.)

The Democrats, convening first at Portland State University (where we watched) and later at Eugene, seemed to have fewer such problems. A number of primary losers (such as Greg Macpherson for attorney general and two of the contenders in the 5th district even though new nominee Kurt Schrader wasn’t there) showed up.

The hottest Democratic primary contest in Oregon was for the U.S. Senate nomination, narrowly won by House Speaker Jeff Merkley over attorney Steve Novick. Some of the respective backers may stay mad for a while. But at the unity event, where part of the point was to give Merkley a cheering general election sendoff, Novick was present, circulating socially, delivered a strongly-worded and characteristically well-organized rally speech for Merkley, and shook his hand on stage. And Merkley responded in kind.

Merkley’s road ahead against Republican Senator Gordon Smith won’t be easy, but he will not likely have to contend with internal party problems.

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May 21 2008

The Burner resume

Published by under Washington

Darcy Burner

Darcy Burner

The issue of Darcy Burner’s resume is apt to come up again before long, and this seems a reasonable time to address it. Especially after reading an article about Barack Obama’s campaign in the last issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

(Don’t worry, the connection’s coming up.)

The article is about the campaign’s mega-money machine, how it has managed so effortlessly to raise unheard of amounts of money. It pinpoints much of the credit to a group of Silicon Valley financiers who early on signed up with Obama’s presidential effort. On of the most telling bits in the article was this:

Furthermore, in Silicon Valley’s unique reckoning, what everyone else considered to be Obama’s major shortcomings—his youth, his inexperience—here counted as prime assets.

I asked [John] Roos, the personification of a buttoned-down corporate attorney, if there had been concerns about Obama’s limited CV, and for a moment he looked as if he might burst out laughing. “No one in Silicon Valley sits here and thinks, ‘You need massive inside-the-Beltway experience,’” he explained, after a diplomatic pause. “Sergey and Larry were in their early 20s when they started Google. The YouTube guys were also in their 20s. So were the guys who started Facebook. And I’ll tell you, we recognize what great companies have been built on, and that’s ideas, talent, and inspirational leadership.”

Back to Burner, running in a near-analogue to the Silicon Valley, as well as in a year when being an insider or the establishment candidate is very bad medicine. And with the mediation of running a second race – as someone who has in fact accumulated a degree of relevant experience. (Yes, running a serious campaign does constitute a piece of training for an office.) And as lead mover of a national policy proposal on Iraq – which is more than almost any incumbent members of Congress have done.

Goldy at Horse’s Ass visits the subject again (this race and this aspect of it are not new for him) with an additional reasonable point, that the track record of the Republican incumbent, Dave Reichert, needs at least as much review as that of the challenger.

Our point here is that increasingly, we’re inclined to think the whole Burner-experience question is likely to devolve into diminishing circles of significance this year.

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May 21 2008

No more resorts

Published by under Oregon

There’d have been a time not long ago when, east of the Cascades in Oregon, passage of something like Measure 07-47 just wouldn’t have happened: Growth and jobs were sacrosanct. Could it be that people have had enough – or at least, would like a breather?

Crook County, northeast of the Bend area, in the last few years has seen development of a string of new destination resorts. Some of them have been welcomed. Some (such as development on the edge of Prineville) have been hotly disputed. Most have run through county offices with approval, leading to an advisory ballot issue, Measure 07-47. It would propose a moratorium on additional resorts.

Much of eastern Oregon would until recently consider this the idea of wild-eyed enviros. If so, they have plenty of company. Yesterday, Crook’s voters approved it 4,400 to 2,230 – nearly two to one.

There’s some difference of opinion about whether the measure conclusively is a ban, or just serves as an advisory. If the latter, considering the margins, you get the sense that elected county officials would be foolhardy to open the gates very wide, for some time to come.

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May 20 2008

Obama over the pledged top

Published by under Oregon

Barack Obama

Barack Obama

There was a little color detail tucked into an Oregonian story about the presidential campaigning around Portland on Sunday: Former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea were there at a couple of events for Senator Hillary Clinton, and near midday they stopped into a downtown eatery called Mother’s Bistro. (We’ve dined there, and it was a good choice.) Only problem was, Mother’s is located just a few blocks from the waterfront park where Senator Barack Obama was about to deliver his rally speech. This was the famous rally where he drew about 75,000 people. Meaning that the Clintons had to wade through crowds of people headed for the Obama rally as they made their way through downtown . . . what an experience that must have been . . .

But it seems a reasonable metaphor for what just about everyone expected out of Oregon this evening: A decisive Obama win, at about 58% roughly on the button of what we had thought likely. And enough, more than enough, to send the Illinois senator over the majority of pledged convention delegates.

Oregon was never likely to be a Clinton state, unlike same-timed Kentucky, on the opposing pole. But a strong Obama organization probably kicked up the numbers a little.

The map of the results explains a bit of why. (These percentages reflect 78% of the vote in.) Obama did best in the metro regions of the state – in fact, he took almost all of the most populous counties: Multnomah (a whopping 64%), Washington (57%), Clackamas (53%), Lane (62%), Marion (52%), Jackson (59%), Deschutes ( 60%), Yamhill (52%), Benton (69%). The major population-center exception was Linn County (the Albany area), which he barely lost.

Clinton won a string of counties too, but they were nearly all rural, and most of them are relatively remote. Her best in the state (among the 34 reporting so far) is lightly populated Morrow County (60%); other counties she won include Malheur, Lake, Harney, Grant, Umatilla, Klamath. The biggest county she won was Douglas (the Roseburg area), which is very rural, and much of it quite remote from any urban area. Tillamook County (which narrowly went for Clinton) sort of fits the mold too.

Having said that, here are some of the other counties Obama won: Curry, te very remote county at the far southwest of the state; Wallowa, very remote at the far northeast, and Grant County in the middle of the state, a truly rural and out of the way stretch.

These patterns will be worth kicking around again in the days ahead.

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May 20 2008

OR Sen D: Close, and not

Published by under Oregon

Say first that the numbers overall in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary were in fact fairly close. Prognosticators around Oregon split deeply in calling this race – it was a tough call – and with two-thirds of the vote out, you have House Speaker Jeff Merkley at 45% and attorney Steve Novick 41%, a gap (at this writing) of about 18,000 votes out of around 400,000 votes cast. Considering the organizational and structural advantages Merkley had, Novick’s race was remarkable: He turned a longshot into a near-win.

You have to notice something else too, though.

With just two counties not yet reporting ballots (two of the state’s smallest, Wheeler and Gilliam), a geographic pattern of wins has emerged, and it is stark. The race was fairly tight mainly, specifically, because of Multnomah County, where at present Novick has an edge of about 11,500 votes. In the whole rest of the state (excluding, again, those two late counties) Novick won just two counties, Benton (46%-43%) and Clatsop (where he leads by 19 votes – that county realistically still is too close to call). Novick had the serious Portland appeal, but elsewhere Merkley sold better. And it wouldn’t have been just the TV ads: He won decisively too in the rural counties where those ads were less seen.

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May 20 2008

OR H5: What didn’t work

Published by under Oregon

Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson

Kevin Mannix

Kevin Mannix

The Republican Party’s leadership and many of its key activists, and the establishment for that matter seemed aligned in the hot primary contest in the Oregon 5th House district: The man was Kevin Mannix, he of legislative background and two failed governor’s and AG’s races – he was the guy who would win that 5th District U.S. House seat back for Republicans, specifically recruited by party insiders. Never mind that, months before, 2006 nominee Mike Erickson was already running and geared for a rematch – that was just an annoying detail. Mannix was gonna be the guy – he was far and away the Republicans’ best shot at the seat. Just about all the visible Republicans seemed to say so.

They evidently didn’t fully get the message on down to the Republican Party voters, who were buffeted wildly in this race. First came a ferocious series of attack ads from Erickson aimed at Mannix. Then came a single, fiercely explosive shot by Mannix at Erickson – the release of the abortion/cocaine email. The prevailing view in recent days seemed to be that Mannix was surviving all this better than Erickson.

A suggestion here on why he didn’t, why Erickson seems on the way to crushing hat may have been Mannix’ last hurrah, based on this principle: If you launch an attack, you’re far more likely to succeed if your credibility is already much higher than your opponent’s.

It is true that Erickson’s cred suffered in the 2006 race, when Democratic incumbent Darlene Hooley (in response to some fierce Erickson ads at that time) unleashed the hounds of hell back at him. But that was a Democrat’s attacks, so for Republican primary voters, they sort of might not count; besides, that was two years ago. And Mannix has had enough negative headlines in recent years that voters were conditioned to believe bad things (never mind that the recent run of ads were pretty dishonest, even if not technically inaccurate) about him. And the added worry: The guy had lost four major races in a row. Was he really – the Republican establishment notwithstanding – the right guy to carry the banner? Or so might have gone the thinking . . .

This was the specific corner of Oregon that Mannix was supposed to extremely well in, especially in his long-time home turf of Marion County (the Salem area). But with about two-thirds of the vote in, Mannix was leading, narrowly, in only one of the district’s seven counties, the slice of Benton County; he was losing even his home base of Marion.

Two conclusions here.

One is that this probably was, indeed, Mannix’ last hurrah. Yeah, many thought so after the last gubernatorial, but this was supposed to the race tailor-made for him. Where could he go from here?

The other is that Democrats’ odds of holding this seat have just improved drastically. Those odds probably were somewhere around even a month ago, before the bomb-throwing on the Republican side. As of now, with state Senator Kurt Schrader easily cruising to an uncontroversial win after having expended little money and no blood, facing a Republican severely damaged and despised by much of his own party’s establishment – key spokesmen having recently called on Erickson to drop out of the race – this contest abruptly, for the general, leans Democratic.

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May 20 2008

The statewides

Published by under Oregon

And we thought the two statewide contests – for attorney general and seretary of state – were going to be tighter than this. As the numbers come in, they aren’t looking very close at all.

We thinly thought state Representative Greg Macpherson would emerge a little ahead, though the back-and-forth in the last few weeks seem to have damaged him. Definitely seem to have damaged him: Law professor John Kroger seems to be emerging (with more than a quarter of the vote in) with a not overwhelming but a decisive win. Chalk one for the conventional wisdom (this being one of the few places where we departed from it). A possible secondary factor: Kroger ran as a boat-rocker and Macpherson didn’t; and this looks like a boat-rocking year.

But if so, how to explain the sweeping Kate Brown win in the secretary of state’s race? She seems to be headed toward an outright majority win in a race with three major and strong contenders, racking up about twice the vote for fellow Senator Rick Metsger and around three times that of Senator Vicki Walker. The money for marketing undoubtedly helped, but that doesn’t seem likely to be the only factor. Of the three, Walker was the one who was out to seriously rattle cages, while Brown focused more on capable administration and broadly-based issues.

These two contests pulled in different directions. So what will that say for the rest of the ballot?

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May 20 2008

The numbers race

Published by under Oregon

The other Oregon contest this evening is, of course, who reports reports the election results fastest. So – now as the polls close and the numbers await release – we’ll keep a look by way of checking on various sources.

Wil be updating. Among those checked will be the secretary of state’s office (unofficial numbers), KGW-TV (which will draw from the Associated Press), the Oregonian (do they have a chart up or are we missing it?) and nationally at Talking Points Memo.

Back soon.

UPDATE The sec state’s numbers were up fairly fast, but they accumulated faster at KGW – and in the presidential (not in the other contests) faster yet at Talking Points Memo, which was first to report past the 50% mark.

UPDATE 2 Once the Oregonian chart was up, it was quick and delightfully thorough. And they had a good early call in the 5th District Republican contest. 50 minutes in, this has become the best place to check for details.

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May 19 2008

Spotlight on Oregon

Published by under Oregon

The spotlight tomorrow – nationally – turns to Oregon, and not just because of that Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton thing. Maybe not mostly, because barring a shocker Obama should put that one away (in Oregon, while losing in Kentucky). That seems not a difficult call; the mass rally Sunday only seemed to put an exclamation point on it.

No, among the serious political watchers, you’ve got two others going on, real posers both.

Yesterday your scribe filled out a punditology entry in the contest run by Blue Oregon’s/Mandate Media’s Kari Chisholm: Pick the winners, and the most nearly correct pundits get bragging rights. (No cash awards in this one.) Most of the questions seemed clear-cut enough; we may have guessed right or wrong, but (recognizing that upsets always do happen) established political equations suggest a reasonably definitive answer in most races. But not two of the biggest.

The Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between House Speaker Jeff Merkley and attorney Steve Novick just denies any easy analysis. After indecisively punching the buttons for each of them several times, we uneasily settled on Merkley on grounds that polling has indicated (softly) an uptick for him, and his advertising seemed to sink in at a critical moment. But two weeks ago we’d have clicked on Novick with less hesitation, and his campaign certainly hasn’t slacked. This is an aggravatingly difficult call; neither win would be remotely surprising.

It has gotten significant national attention. The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza blogged today that “Merkley’s difficulties in the campaign to date should raise questions about whether or not he can topple the likable Smith. . . . [Although:] Assuming Lunsford [a Kentucky Senate candidate] and Merkley win tomorrow, both of these seats will remain on the national radar screen throughout the summer and fall. If either or both fall, it could take two seats off the table in November.” (On the other hand, Novick has so exceeded expectations in bringing this race, once thought to be solidly in Merkley’s command, that how could you so easily write him off for the general if he topples the party favorite and presumed frontrunner?)

The Republican battle in the 5th District is a little different, a collection of drastic shifts, from an of-course presumption that veteran candidate and former legislator Kevin Mannix would take it, to a massive ramp up in ferocious advertising (coming up with truly creative branding of Mannix – as a tax increaser of all things?) by businessman Mike Erickson and polling putting Erickson in a clear lead. And then last week, Mannix’ release of a two-year old e-mail alleging among other things that Erickson had paid for an abortion for a woman with whom he’d had a relationship several years back. There may be a reason Mannix didn’t release it until near the end of a campaign when he appeared to headed down (and why incumbent Democrat Darlene Hooley, who had the mail last cycle, declined to use it): When you set off a bomb, you can’t control where and who the explosion will hit. The weight of opinion by pundits (the Oregonian editorial page, for one) and activists over the last week has seemed to side with Mannix. But the hard truth is that no one will know how this plays until we see the ballot numbers. Our best guess? We suspect Mannix will prevail – that seems to be the feel in the air. But we also think about a long ramble last weekend in rural parts of the 5th, and noticing plenty of Erickson signage and hardly any for Mannix. No result (including a landslide for one or the other) will be a total shock here.

The whole explosive abortion angle has drawn significant national attention to the Oregon 5th too, and for good reason: This is, logically, a highly competitive district. But who will the Republicans present as a nominee? And what condition will they be in?

Much of interest to blog about here, in 24 hours or so . . .

UPDATE The stats on the Oregon pundit community’s prediction – what you might consider the collective wisdom of the group – has been posted.

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May 18 2008

75,000

Published by under Oregon

In mid-August 2004 we swung by a rally in Portland on the waterfront near downtown held by then-Democratic nominee John Kerry. It was enormous. Our eyeball estimate ran to somewhere over 20,000, but ground-level viewing was incomplete. Official estimates put the number at approaching 50,000.

Today’s rally by candidate – not even yet nominee, and still strongly contested – Barack Obama drew, according to fire department estimates, about 75,000. It must be the largest single audience for a political rally ever in Oregon; it could be the largest ever in the Northwest (certainly bigger than any in Idaho).

That could represent close to a tenth of all the ballots cast, in both parties, in the current primary election. (So far, 582,998 ballots have been returned so far, so the number should hit three-quarters of a million or so; maybe more – probably around 100,000 more than four years ago.)

The numbers from Obama’s last Oregon stop of the primary, at Pendleton, will of course be a lot smaller. But they’ll be interesting to see, too.

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May 17 2008

Early and often

Published by under Oregon

There’s a fun general-purposes discussion on the primary wind-down on Oregon Media Insiders – an open thread in which writers talk about the campaigns and especially their interaction with the media.

One standout point came from a commenter who, in an Oregon election window of three weeks between ballot mailout and election day deadline, disapproves of early voting: “voting before election day is ill-advised. . . . I wonder how many Republicans are now wishing they could change their vote in the Mannix-Erickson race, and how many more will wish they could if it becomes clear who’s lying. Another problem with early voting is that it short-circuits campaigns that depend on voter education (these tend to be liberal/progressive in nature). In the past decade I’ve seen several good candidates/measures go down to a close defeat (and several bad ones eke out a close victory) despite polls showing a clear trend in the other direction in the last days of the campaign. Surely early voting played a role in at least some of these outcomes.”

A point of interest, though we take the opposite view: If enough people vote early, last-minute gotchas – which often constitutes much of the really ugly stuff – tends to get short-circuited. Generally speaking, voters are better off without it. By the time the ballots go out, pretty much all of what you need to know (or at is, is useful) about a candidate is already out there. Spreading out the voting tends to reflect a broader view of who and what the candidates are about, rather than just one 11th-hour punch to which the other side has little chance to respond.

As negative as this primary has been in Oregon, it might have been moreso with one-day voting. And at least, there’s been plenty of time for give and take, rather than just the give.

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May 16 2008

Gregoire up

Published by under Washington

Once again, watch the trend line. Rasmussen Reports has a fresh poll out today on the Washington governor’s race, but what’s useful is how it compares to earlier results.

In late February, Rasmussen had Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire at 46% and Republican challenger Dino Rossi at 47% – essentially a tie. In late March the results were nearly identical, except that Gregoire now led by one point. This week (a month and a half later), Gregoire is reported to have opened a 52%-41% lead over Rossi.

What happened?

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