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Posts published in October 2008

The political press, expanded

This site would be remiss, as a reporter on politics in the Northwest, not to take note of the decision of at least one major campaign to bounce two bloggers from a press conference.

Goldy of Horse's Ass (one of the bouncees, from a Republican Dino Rossi press conference) on the point involved: "we are a legitimate part of the media, and it is in the public interest that we be treated that way. For as more and more traditional media moves online while blogs like mine expand the quantity and quality of our coverage, the line between the two will continue to blur, making any effort to ghettoize mere bloggers nothing more than a convenient excuse to deny access to journalists who produce unflattering coverage."

Horse's Ass is an explicitly liberal/Democratic site, but it also produces a lot of useful, original information - dare we say original reporting. It is as useful a political site (as long as you remember where it's coming from) as any in the region, including the large corporate variety.

Our guess is that this sort of bouncing will be happening less and less in future cycles.

ID: At the courthouse

The Idaho Democratic Party sometimes has to grab on to whatever slices of good news it can find, even if the news doesn't objective look all that great. (You do what you have to.) But this is of interest for non-obvious reasons:

A party article by Julie Fanselow highlighting county commission candidates around the state, "42 Idahoans running for county commission seats as Democrats this fall, an unusually high number."

On one level, that's an admission of a problem, since in any given general election year, 88 county commission seats are up for election in Idaho's 44 counties. Democrats are contesting fewer than half of those seats; the rest will be snapped up by unopposed or virtually unopposed Republicans (apart from maybe one or two independents). And of the 42, just 15 are incumbents, an indication of how lightly represented Democrats are at the courthouses.

There is another way to look at this, though. Let's run through recent election history and see how Democrats have done earlier this decade in Idaho county races.

bullet 2000. In this presidential year, when Democrats lost a number of relatively high-profile incumbents at the courthouses, the election record shows 39 Democratic candidates for commission seats. Of them, 12 - fewer than a third - won.

bullet 2002. A slightly more Democratic year, but not by much, saw Democrats nominating 36 candidates to the commission. That number was down a little, but their wins rose to 17, close to half.

bullet 2004. Another rough presidential year for Idaho Democrats, nominating just 31 for commission seats (a low in recent times). Still, 16 of them won, more than half this time.

bullet 2006. Democrats filled their candidate slate this time to 35 (again, out of 88 total seats). Not a great ballot presence, but the win-loss ratio was little noted: Democrats won 24 of those races, more than two-thirds.

There could be something of a pattern here.

These races are not all created equal. The Democrats in Benewah County, for example (where Democrats have held two or three of the commission seats for many decades), are simply a conservative group who have little to do with Couer d'Alene or Boise Democrats. (One of those Benewah Democrats is Republican Representative Bill Sali's highest-profile Democratic endorser.) But taken as a whole, they're a bit of an indicator.

How many seats do they win this time with 42 candidates? It'll be another number to watch on Tuesday.

OR: Early advantages

The early indications of a Democratic blowout in Oregon on Tuesday are there in ballot numbers that have been released so far. Not votes, of course: Those won't be out until Tuesday night. But we do know now how the early voting is going for the two parties according to returns by registrants of each party. And those numbers are clear.

One comparison already pretty widely noted is that registered Democrats - of whom there are about 220,000 more in Oregon than Republicans - have been turning in their ballots at a faster clip than registered Republicans, 49% to 41%. (If the rates were even, that would still be a big Democratic advantage, given their higher registration numbers.)

Not only that, the Democrats have outpaced Republicans in ballot returns so far in all of Oregon's 36 counties.

ballot return advantage But in looking at the Thursday afternoon ballot numbers (helpfully posted on Jeff Mapes' Oregonian blog) you can also work out how some of the voting may go, to the extent that registration matches up with voting patterns, based on the raw numbers of ballots submitted. That's not (as TorridJoe notes in his Loaded Lrygun post on the returns) the same as rate of returns, since counties have varying portions of registered Ds and Rs. (The map shows which counties have generated so far more Democratic than Republican ballots in raw numbers.)

A cautionary note: There are ancestral party registrations, people who have been registered with one party or other for a long time but have in practice migrated over to the other. And you also have to factor in the nonaligneds, and independents (who between them have leaned Democratic in the last few cycles).

Still.

You have here places like Clackamas County, the third largest in Oregon (Portland suburban) which broke narrowly for George Bush in 2004; as of Thurday it has returned about 45,000 Democratic ballots to 32,000 Republican. Deschutes County (Bend), very strongly Republican for - well, always - so far has returned more Democratic ballots than Republican, 16,648 to 15,660. Yamhill County, traditionally Republican, is running 8,320 Democratic ballots to 7,163. Polk County (Dallas), even more Republican traditionally, is at 7,716 Democratic to 6,753 Republican. Jackson County (Medford/Ashland), the anchor of southwest Oregon and long a Republican stalwart, is at 23,142 Democratic to 19,745 Republican - in a county with a 2300 or so Republican registration advantage. Marion County, Republican for ages (until a registration flip a few months ago), is at 27,850 Democratic to 22,842 Republican, in a county where the Democratic advantage still is only slight.

You can imagine what the Democratic counties look like - running near 4-1 in Democratic ballots in Multnomah (Portland), nearly 2-1 in Hood River, about the same in Clatsop, and more than 2-1 in Benton.

Some of this, of course, may be reflective of enthusiasm and better Democratic efforts to get out early votes. But is there any reason to think the trend is just going to hit a wall in the next three days?

Who pays?

hydrant

So often with public services the issue isn't even whether the service is needed - it's that I don't want to be the one paying for it. But someone has to . . .

In the recent decision in Lane v. City of Seattle, the Washington Supreme Court had to settle what seems a prosaic question: "In this case we must decide who will pay for fire hydrants in the city of Seattle and its suburbs." A boring question rapidly turned into farce:

Seattle Public Utility (SPU) used to pay for them, passing the cost along to its ratepayers. The ratepayers object and want Seattle to foot the bill. If Seattle has to pay for its hydrants, it wants Lake Forest Park to pay for the hydrants in Lake Forest Park. Lake Forest Park, in turn, wants fire districts in Lake Forest Park to pay. The fire districts want someone, anyone, else to pay. On top of all that, the ratepayers want interest on improper past hydrant payments they recover and want Seattle's new tax on SPU declared illegal. Finally, the fire districts claim they are no longer even parties to the litigation.

So it goes when the thinking is that taxes are evil . . .

The low turn-in puzzle

Around the country, election watchers are being stunned by the large numbers of early voters - in Florida, North Carolina, lots of other places.

Not so stunned in Oregon, home of the mail-in early vote as an institutionalized practice. The stats as of today are that about 24% of eligible voters have turned in ballots, compared with 30% four years ago at this point in the process.

Why the lower number, in a year when interest in the election generally seems to be running so high?

At Blue Oregon, Jeff Alworth asked readers for any pet theories about this. To which one reader replied, "Conservative felines in Los Gatos emailed their Oregon counterparts to chew up owners' ballots. You wanted a pet theory."

He adds, "Jeff Mapes suggests either the lack of a hot-button ballot measure or indecision in the Senate race might have suppressed enthusiasm. Could be. My pet theories are these: 1) although there is great interest in the election this year, Oregonians are not getting the kind of attention we got in '00 and '04, and are therefore haven't stirred ourselves to vote, and/or 2) the polls so strongly suggest an Obama win that voters are complacent about getting their ballots in."

At fivethirtyeight.com, Nate Silver draws some linkage between counties that vote more Republican and lower ballot turn-ins, and converse. But as Alworth suggests, the linkage seems a little thin.

Could it be that the estimate of how many eligible voters there are, is simply higher this year? That some of those many newly-registered voters aren't showing?

Consider the history, which seems a little over the map. Here are day runups from the general election results over the last decade.

year 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
2006 1 2 6 10 14 19 25 34 40 45 58 72 100
2004 1 3 9 15 21 29 35 45 53 60 73 84 100
2002 0 1 5 10 14 18 24 32 38 44 52 72 100
2000 - 1 6 9 13 17 23 32 39 46 55 76 100
1998 - 3 8 12 16 20 27 36 42 49 57 74 100

The variation this year? They've been variable for a while.

A line or two too far

Idaho Republican Representative Bill Sali has piled up a mass of items useful for his Democratic opponents to dig into, and they have been. The state party has been releasing, one by one, "30 reasons Idaho votes don't want Bill Sali," and quite a few are solid and substantive; most are policy driven, and relate to what he's done as a candidate and congressman.

So you have wonder about the impulse to release Sali's, and his wife's, social security numbers on a statewide attack flyer, sent and approved by the Idaho Democratic Party.

As reporter Betsy Russell describes it: "The flier faults Sali for past financial problems, including state and federal tax liens filed against him in 1988, and his continuing campaign debt. The flier shows parts of two tax liens; on one, both Social Security numbers are visible."

The ongoing campaign debt is certainly fair game. But personal liens from 1988, as in two decades ago? (If he's had no similar problems since then, most people probably would consider the matter closed, especially since those particular debts apparently were paid.) And Social Security numbers? At the least, those could have been blacked out, and the public learned nothing with their disclosure. His spokesman Wayne Hoffman suggested, "I think the party bears a certain responsibility if Mr. or Mrs. Sali's identities are stolen following this."

These are rugged political days. But they don't have to be this rugged.

WA 8: Segregating it out

More, it seems, than in most races (short of the presidential) there's been a lot of bad information running around about the contest in Washington's House District 8, where Republican incumbent Dave Reichert is defending against Democratic challenger Darcy Burner.

Check out this Wall Street Journal sum-up of the race, which is (to be sure) laded with corrections already at the bottom.

And the items that didn't make the corrections section. District 8 is defined here as having a "rural heart," being "mostly rural." Well, the acreage is, maybe (though even that's debatable); what this really is, is suburban, and rapidly identifying with the big urban center a few miles west, Seattle.

Nor did the article well describe the (now-famous) techy t-shirt art () Burner wore at the site of her burning house.

It's a race wirth the highlighting, though - as close as any, with shifting dynamics. As ith so many congressional races around the country, in the last couple of weeks there's a loss of Republican ground and a gain by Democrats; three weeks ago, Reichert seemed narrowly ahead, now Burner seems to have a little ground. And since Washington voters already are casting ballots, that shifting turf makes prediction ever more dicey. But sitting here a week out, it's looking more as if Burner will turn around the results from two years ago . . .

If we've got our information straight.

Romney v Palin

Apost from a few days ago suggested that, post-November 4, Idaho Republicans may informally start choosing between standard-bearers, or at least standard-bearer types: Sarah Palin on one side, and Mitt Romney on the other.

Which was brought back to mind from this item today in a column of the American Spectator:

Former Mitt Romney presidential campaign staffers, some of whom are currently working for Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin's bid for the White House, have been involved in spreading anti-Palin spin to reporters, seeking to diminish her standing after the election. "Sarah Palin is a lightweight, she won't be the first, not even the third, person people will think of when it comes to 2012," says one former Romney aide, now working for McCain-Palin. "The only serious candidate ready to challenge to lead the Republican Party is Mitt Romney. He's in charge on November 5th."

The O, deflating

The stunning decline in newspaper circulation continues, with the reports out today about the losses at practically all of the larger papers around the country.

At the Northwest's largest, the Oregonian, the drop is precipitous over the last six months, 8.4% down. But what is this equating to over time? Let's compare with the figures from earlier this decade.

Daily circulation fall 2008: 283,321

Daily circulation fall 2005: 333,515

Daily circulation spring 2002: 348,000 (approx)

Online is rising (and the O's website is improving). How this will pencil out remains the issue.

Gas up

Take note of the current regional gas prices a little farther down this page - Oregon lowest, Idaho a little higher, but all much lower than they were three or four months ago.

Suggestion: Gas up on election day.

Unless you think it's just another weird coincidence that, once again, market forces are driving gas prices right before the general election . . .