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Posts published in September 2008

Going negative

Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith

The political norm for an incumbent seeking re-election, especially one whose support is based in great part on the fact that people like him, is to stay positive, at least most of the time: Emphasize those things people like about them. Be sparing in the shots taken at the opposition, and mostly just ride over top of them; look bigger than they are.

Which makes the current round of press releases (and more) from the campaign of incumbent Republican Senator Gordon Smith highly interesting. Already unusual for its attachment in a couple of spots to national Democrats Barack Obama and John Kerry, it's of interest here because of the nearly unbroken stream of releases critical of Democratic opponent Jeff Merkley. Here's the complete list of press releases now noted on the Smith campaign website:

09.09.08 MERKLEY ALLIES LAUNCH MORE FALSE ATTACKS
09.01.08 Smith to Merkley: You’re Not in Kansas Anymore
08.28.08 History Channel’s ‘Ax Men’ Endorse Gordon Smith
08.26.08 Jeff Merkley: Slinging Mud, Twisting the Facts
08.25.08 Gordon Smith Releases New TV Ad
08.22.08 Smith Announces Debate Schedule
08.21.08 The Liar, the Switch and the Wardrobe
08.20.08 Merkley Cannibalizes Fellow Democrats
08.14.08 Jeff Merkley: Flat Out Wrong on Seniors
07.30.08 Another Merkley "Plan:" Gas Plan Still Hypocritical, Out of Touch, Stolen

Of course, it's always a candidate's prerogative to go after the opposition, and Smith acknowledges, "It's the strongest headwind I've ever faced." Still, is he doing some damage here to one of his best assets - his likability?

More cuts to the bone

How much longer can this go on before local newspapers have to simply say they're no longer providing anything resembling meaningful news coverage? They're not there yet, and hats off to those in the newsrooms struggling to do the job. But be clear: The job cutbacks are cuts to the core; whatever fat there was, was dispensed with long ago.

Today's news is impending job cuts at three McClatchy newspapers in Washington, the Tacoma News Tribune, the Olympian and the Tri-City Herald. At all three, most newsroom employees are being offered buyout options. That doesn't mean most will be leaving, but word is that if enough don't, substantial layoffs will be next. The size of the newsrooms cuts expected isn't made clear - an ominous thought all by itself.

At Olympia, Publisher John Winn Miller was reported as saying "he thinks The Olympian, which has 180 full- and part-time workers, will survive as an independent news voice in the state capital."

Note the language: He thinks it will survive.

WA: Counties then and now

Not too much should be made of the vote totals out of the August Washington primary, in projecting ahead to possible November results.

Still, the primary offered a head to head matchup of sorts, albeit imperfect, between Democratic Washington Governor Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi. So the question: Now that the votes are counted (takes a while in Washington), how do the results from the November 2004 general election differ from what we saw in August?

Both were close, that's for sure: 2004's was simply a photo finish, and the primary wound up with Gregoire getting 48.3% of the vote and Rossi 46.3% - also very close. But were there any suggestions of where voting patterns may have shifted? Maybe.

In 2004 Gregoire won eight counties: Cowlitz, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, King, Pacific, San Juan, Thurston and Whatcom - all on the west side, with the two major exclusions of the state's second and third largest counties, Pierce and Snohomish, and the other large population base at Kitsap. (We note the list of Gregoire wins because it's the short list: Rossi won many more counties, most of them small, than she did.)

In the August primary, Gregoire got more votes than Rossi in 11 counties: Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Pacific, Pierce, San Juan, Snohomish, Thurston and Whatcom. She lost Cowlitz this time, but picked up Island, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish.

For all sorts of reasons not too much should made of this, partly because the margins in a number of the counties were small (in cases like Pierce and Kitsap, almost microscopic). But they do seem to be small pieces of evidence of shift.

Radio Free Salem

When you ask where the mass media - newspapers, radio, television - go from here, if you want content of use and quality, one thought jumps out: Go non-profit. Non-profit newspapers and television are (unless you count public television) essentially onexistent, but there's no reason they couldn't be developed and a useful part of the mix, especially if laws were changed to offer some encouragement.

For the moment, consider the recent growth of nonprofit community radio. There's not a lot of it around, yet, but we are seeing growth in the effort, in most of the larger metros in the Northwest and some smaller places too. (The big godfather of the form probably would be Portland's KBOO.)

The comes up owing to the welcome news out today that clearances have been received for development and airing of Radio Free Salem, a community radio station in Oregon's capital city. Part of the startup agreement is that the station must be on air by mid-2011; its backers anticipate a startup much sooner. The frequency is 88.5 FM.

We look forward to listening in.

A paper trail

Those following the Sarah Palin story will definitely want to make for the review in the Seattle Times today of what has emerged from three boxes of court records in a Seattle federal warehouse, the recorded remains of a wrongful-termination lawsuit stemming from actions and developments from Palin's first year as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska.

From the Times report: "She became embroiled in personnel challenges, a thwarted attempt to pack the City Council and a standoff with her local newspaper. Her first months were so contentious and polarizing that critics started talking recall. Her first months also exposed threads that would later become patterns — friends become enemies, enemies become friends and questions get raised about why she fired this person or that person."

The picture, a near-blank 10 days ago, continues to fill in.

The late, different, votes

We have no conclusive explanation for it, and neither did Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune, but the overall trend was decisive enough to be real and clear: The very last voters in the Washington primary election were Republican voters, by a big margin.

The stats, from Callaghan's column today: "On the day after the election, Gov. Chris Gregoire held a 4.1 percentage-point lead over Republican challenger Dino Rossi. But when the final county tallies were in, Gregoire’s advantage had narrowed to just 1.9 percent. Attorney General Rob McKenna’s lead over Democratic challenger John Ladenburg grew from 12 points to 14; U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert’s lead over Democrat Darcy Burner went from 3 points to 4 points." And so on - you'll find the pattern repeated elsewhere.

Explaining this, or working through whatever its significance is, is more difficult than saying it's happened. A Rossi backer suggested that later voters got to know Rossi better and liked what they saw; but that runs into the problems of only a day or two difference in voting time, and into the problem of the voting differential extending across Republican candidacies.

In the last decade over in Idaho, we noted that when that state moved to some-day registration (as opposed to requiring registration in a period that ended several days previously), the Republican percentage rose a notch. Of course, 1992 and 1994 (when this happened) were strongly Republican years anyway for a variety of reasons. But we also found, in precinct breakdowns, that places where same-day registrants were larger portions of the electorate, were the same places where Republicans made their greatest gains.

Exactly what that means isn't at all clear, and your explanation of it may have more to do with what you think of Republicans (or Democrats) than anything else. But there's surely a lesson to be learned in this, if someone can get a handle on it . . .

WA: “Another one bites the dust”

Awhile back, we started a list of Idaho journalists who left that profession, but not the state, to take another kind of job. A whole lot of those jobs have involved working as spokespeople for a government agency or a corporation.

Need to start working on comparable lists for Washington and Oregon. Notably, with the news that Washington's top-placed political reporter, David Postman, is leaving the Seattle Times (where he's been doing some solid blogging) and journalism, to go to work for Paul Allen's Vulcan, Inc. - media relations.

As newspapers seemingly circle the drain, where else will all those journalists go? More to the point, where will we get actual journalism from?

Palin in Oregon?

The first indicator we've seen of a fall appearance by one of the major presidential/vice presidential nominees: A report that Republican VP nominee Sarah Palin may come to Oregon for a fundraiser? How solidly it's sourced isn't clear, but interesting if true.

Do you suppose she'll answer questions . . . or say something unscripted?

Lotsa colleges

Something more on the Sarah Palin front - nothing scandalous, but seemingly a curiosity.

In Idaho, there's been mention that she attended North Idaho College at Coeur d'Alene, and later the University of Idaho at Moscow.

And so she did, but there's more to it. Her collegiate career started, for one semester, at Hawaii Pacific University (though no press release there noting her as an alumna). From there she went to NIC for a year, and then UI for a year. And then back home to Alaska, to the Matanuska-Susitna College (at Palmer, close to Wasilla), for a semester, after which she returned to the UI for another year, at which point she got her degree in journalism.

Nothing wrong with moving from one college to another; lots of students do. But the number of moves is interesting, and the coursework needed for a journalism degree (or a polisci minor) wouldn't have been especially specialized, and could be gotten in many places. Any thoughts as to why so many transfers may have happened in this case?

Pointed to the door

We suggested some posts back that if the Idaho race for the U.S. Senate got close enough, that the minor-candidate factor could start to come into play. Put another way, Democrat Larry LaRocco will have a difficult time getting to 50% of the vote to defeat Republican Jim Risch, but he might be able to do it with, say, 45% if the various other candidates for the Senate - including a Libertarian and two independents, all self-described conservatives - pull enough votes.

Apparently we're not alone in thinking so. The Libertarian in question, Kent Marmon (who has run previously as a Republican) says that Representative Bill Sali personally asked him to drop out, because their runs might hurt Risch's chances. Evidently leading Republicans have called the other two - businessman Rex Rammell of eastern Idaho and the man name Pro-Life, of Emmett - and made similar appeals.

A sign the race may be closer than we think?

The Risch blog

Several months back, Republican Idaho Senate candidate Jim Risch said he didn't se e-mail and didn't much use the Internet - an expression, generally, of seeming dismissal of the new medium. There must have been some rethinking: Today, his campaign is announcing its new blog, complete with posts attributed to Risch.

Good move. In 2008, there's no political advantage in declaring yourself computer illiterate, and running a blog (as so many campaigns do now, including that of Senate Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco) is an easy way to convey that you're up to date and encourage inter-communication. And it helps if you're as articulate as Risch is.

His first substantive post comes from the national Republican convention. We'll be intrigued to see what he blogs about in the weeks to come.

The strip club rationale

The city of Eugene, with a population of around 150,000, has within its limits two strip clubs. Take the bridge across the Willamette River and you're in the city of Springfield, around 55,000, which has five and - if a new proposal is approved later this year - soon may have six. Why the disparity?

That's the subject of a fascinating story today in the Eugene Register-Guard, about the differences between the cities that have led to this specific commercial difference. Among the distinctions are the liveliness of the relative downtown areas (Eugene's looks a good deal more prosperous), differences in smoking rules (Eugene has banned smoking in bars since 2001) and the liquor law history of the two places: Eugene spent more of its history as a "dry" city, and Springfield as a "wet."

You can find other intriguing municipal comparisons that run somewhat this way (over in Idaho, Boise/Garden City and Pocatello/Chubbuck come to mind). The story is a recommended read for implications well beyond Lane County.