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Posts published in October 2008

Endorsements: The Mugwumpy O

Of course this was what the Oregonian was going to do: Never any question about it. It endorsed Democrat Barack Obama for president and Republican Gordon Smith for (re-election to) the U.S. Senate.

On the first, this: "In the century and a half that Oregon and The Oregonian have been making presidential choices, there has rarely been a time when the nation so desperately needed a sharp change in direction. To provide that change, The Oregonian strongly urges voters to support Barack Obama."

On the Senate race: "It is a close, contentious and very negative contest in which both men can make cases for themselves. With his seniority, record of moderation, ear for the concerns of Oregonians and willingness to break with his party when the circumstances call for it, we think Smith makes the better case."

Maybe the more key reference was this: "The goal of the Democrats at this moment in history is to gain unquestioned control of the legislative process. In the Senate, that means establishing a 60-vote, filibuster-proof supermajority. The generic nature of their efforts in support of Merkley suggest they are more interested in getting their 60 votes than they are in the welfare of the citizens of Oregon. Merkley's own campaign has focused on his party's views of national and international issues and, where Oregonians come into the picture, they are often illustrations of those broader topics."

Endorsements: Another break

Since the Bladine family in 1928 bought the newspaper at McMinnville (then called the Telephone-Register, now the News-Register) it has listed itself politically as "Independent Republican." In presidential campaign endorsements, it is has been universally Republican - until now.

Today's endorsement editorial breaks the pattern of 80 years, backing Democrat Barack Obama. (The paper has mixed its other endorsements, backing Republican incumbent Gordon Smith for the Senate, for example.) It was not a limp endorsement, either: "Only one candidate stands for change in this year’s presidential race — Barack Obama. Obama’s intellect, temperament and ability to inspire are precisely what we need after a disastrous eight years under George W. Bush."

The owner and publisher, Jeb Bladine, offered a column that offered some explanation for the break: "Others on our editorial board passionately believe that Barack Obama, not John McCain, should become our 44th president. By power of ownership, I could have overturned that vote. But much as I believe in a moderate Republican philosophy, I also see the need for dramatic action seeking to break the deadlock and malice that has marred our political landscape for too long."

And to his fellow Republicans, this: "The Republican Party needs transformation and resurgence, which just might begin after the national rejection coming in November. Meanwhile, the country needs to unite behind someone who can elicit a national willingness to sacrifice for common goals related to energy, the economy, health care and international diplomacy. I hope Barack Obama is that leader."

Endorsements: Precedent shock

On a day when the Chicago Tribune endorsed a Democrat for president, for the first time in its 160 years; and when the Los Angeles broke its decades-long precedent of declining to endorse anyone for president - both went for Democrat Barack Obama - the Northwest come up with a startling endorser of its own.

The Vancouver Columbian ordinarily endorses toward the right, and usually Republican on the presidential level - it went for George Bush in 2004. But not this year. From its endorsement editorial today:

"As for judgment, Obama chose a running mate who neither hurt him in the polls nor diverted the spotlight from the main man on the ticket. McCain’s choice has done both. McCain tries to masquerade this recklessness as the virtue of a maverick. Would he use that same recklessness in appointing Supreme Court justices and Cabinet members? Which candidate in recent weeks has shown a presidential demeanor? Which could best restore worldwide respect for the U.S.? Which man has tried to soothe — not stoke — rancor in the homestretch of this campaign? Clearly, that man is Obama. . . . America’s comparison between the upstart reformer and the venerable war hero inexorably returns to the qualities of leadership and judgment. Obama wins that comparison, and his message of partnerships at home and abroad seals the deal for us."

Watch this space tomorrow, for what we anticipate will be another endorsement stunner . . .

Feeding a narrative

This seems like a small, minor incident - well, it is that. But because it reflects something larger, maybe a little attention is warranted.

The location was downtown Boise, outside the Grove Hotel, where a few minutes hence a debate would begin between two congressional candidates, Republican incumbent Bill Sali and Democratic challenger Walt Minnick. A reporter from Boise's KTVB-TV was interviewing Minnick spokesman John Foster. Then, according to KTVB:

"During the interview, someone loudly yelled and was laughing during the interview at the Grove plaza. Bilbao and Foster initially ignored the intrusion, but quickly noticed the source of the heckling - Sali and members of his staff. Foster stopped the interview and noted the commotion. 'I am sorry I was a little bit distracted,' Foster said. 'I think at some point you even have to question his maturity.' Foster said he saw Sali making faces at him and holding up 'bunny ears'.”

Asked about this, Sali essentially suggested that the Minnick people needed to lighten up.

This isn't a big issue, of course. But there is this: One of the key arguments against Sali is that he isn't serious, that he doesn't take a solid, mature view to his job. Yes, Sali advocates can counter to that, but the perception at least is widespread, and Sali's people have to be aware of it. Given that, why would they feed the narrative this way, and at a time when seriousness of purpose actually does seem to be a recognizable virtue among politicians?

OR: Toward 36

Here's putting the odds at even or better that Oregon House Democrats reach their much-sought goal of 36 seats - enough to enact almost whatever they choose, given their party's control also of the Senate and governor's office. A simple majority, which they barely have now, is enough for many items, but a lot of fiscal decisions require 36 votes, which has meant at least five crossovers from the Republican caucus - hard to get.

Two months ago, thinking here was that Democratic gains of two or three sets seemed strongly probable, four a little bit of a reach, and five conceivable but less than likely. But as with so much else this year, that seems to have changed.

Take a look at the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes blog post today on the legislative seats most likely to change parties - his top 10 list. Apart from two odd cases* all the seats mentioned are Republican.

Eight of those most-likely-to-switch seats are House Republicans, and some of those are members - like Scott Bruun, Linda Flores and Chuck Burley - we'd earlier on figured too tough to view as very seriously endangered. But not any more, owing largely to the larger political atmosphere and the changing party registration figures that reflects.

Number 10 on Mapes' list was the seat we focused on yesterday, the District 24 House seat held by Republican Donna Nelson, a seat until recently considered nearly safe Republican but now teetering on the edge. And we'd have added District 18 to Mapes' list - making for nine readily identifiable endangered Republicans. (Mapes does list another five apparently competitive races, three of them involving currently Republican seats.)

Not all will lose, but: Five? Very possibly. Maybe probably.

He quotes one Republican: "I think the Democrats have a chance to reach their wildest dreams," and remarked generally, "I've never heard Republicans sound so grim when you can get them talking frankly and off the record." And he remarks later, "Journalistic fairness would like me to put an R here. But no one I talked to made a credible case for a Republican pickup in the House."

*The two that really belong in a whole different sort of category . . . The Bend-area Senate seat held by Ben Westlund (now running for state treasurer) is technically Democratic, since Westlund changed parties; but when he was last elected to it, in 2004, he was elected as a Republican, so the change is real for the actual senator (Westlund's successor likely will be Republican) but not for the district as such. And Portland Senator Avel Gordly, also retiring from the Senate, was last elected as a Democrat, served as an independent during much of the last term but more recently returned to the Democratic fold. She will be replaced, almost certainly, by another Democrat (Jackie Dingfelder); so we'd argue that constitutes no partisan change at all.

Among the 10 best?

Mike Simpson

Mike Simpson

The magazine Esquire has released its lists of the 10 best and 10 worst members of Congress, and among those top and bottom 20, the Northwest is represented once - on the good side - by Idaho Representative Mike Simpson.

The lists overall, by the way, are balanced by party - half D, half R. (It's also done a presidential endorsement, for Democrat Barack Obama.)

Here's what it said about Simpson:

"More than any other representative, Simpson lives by the philosophy that democratic representation is a matter of finding not advantageous positions but common ground; not of manning the ramparts but of parleying to prevent war. Has another member of his party ever joined the ACLU for a fact-finding spell? Has any made a habit of meeting with conservationists to learn their wants and fears? Do any work as he does to temper partisanship in the name of progress? None that we could uncover. His constituents reap the benefits."

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens did make the list of 10 worst.

OR H24: Races where there were none

Al Hansen Jim Weidner

Al Hansen (speaking, right); Jim Weidner (left)

Two years ago, one of the hottest and closest (second closest in the state) legislative races in Oregon was in District 24, which takes in McMinnville and most of Yamhill County. It emerged as a close race toward the end. The district was widely considered to be close to a Republican lock the incumbent Republican had won substantially twice before, and no news was expected. Democrat Sal Peralta ran an exceptional race, though, and nearly took out Republican Donna Nelson.

The contest this time has not been looking so close. Al Hansen, a former McMinnville council member (with a long string of community pushups as well), is the Democrat this time, but his campaign has seemed not to match Peralta's. The contest hasn't much hit the statewide radar; Republican and Yamhill businessman Jim Weidner, who strongly won a seriously contested primary, has been presumed to hold a strong lead.

But maybe that was a write-off too soon. There has been no public polling in the race, but over the last week word began slipping out about polling by each party (state Democrats only lately apparently were convinced to throw in some money for that), and the results on both sides show the race tied - a much stronger showing for Hansen than most local observers would have expected. There seems to be little dispute about it, either: Wiedner told the McMinnville News-Register, "I'll go with, 'It's a dead heat.'"

What accounts for it?

There's the larger atmosphere hostile to Republicans, even in swing areas. There are structural factors, such as the year-round Democratic office that's been open in McMinnville, and the downtown Obama office, both encouraging Democratic organization. In District 24, voter registration at the end of September 2004 was: Democrats 10,942, Republicans 13,370 - Republican advantage of about 2,400. Two years later (when Peralta ran): Democrats 10,825, Republicans 13,461 - little change. But at the end of last month: Democrats 12,852, Republicans 13,423 - a Republican advantage of 571: The old gap cut by more than three-fourths. And finally, there's the nature of the candidates: Hansen has been a McMinnville civic fixture and activist for many years, with broad contacts, while Weidner is a relative newcomer with a support base more partisan and ideological - not a good cocktail for this year.

Keep watch on this race. It could flow either way.

ALSO To the southeast, but also in the Willamette Valley, keep watch on the House 18 race (generally, a large rural region east of the Salem area). We were earlier skeptical that third-time Democratic candidate (and nursery owner) Jim Gilbert of Molalla would get a lot farther than the last two times. But we're hearing that a confluence of factors may have put him in the lead over Republican Vic Gilliam, who was appointed to the seat in December 2006. Gilliam ran for the House twice before two, but back in the 80s, probably giving Gilbert a name ID edge. And consider the changes in voter identification: A Republican edge of 3,106 two years ago shrank to 2,320 at the end of last month.

OR: Senate prospects

Watching and evaluating the outcome of the Oregon Senate has been a matter of ongoing migration. It has always been a close thing - ever since, really, November of 2006, if not earlier. Republican Senator Gordon Smith's December 2006 reversal on Iraq, however sincere and policy-driven it may have been, stands as symbol of that.

Still, the most common consensus during most of the time since then has been that Smith probably has a small edge: Small, but still there. Sometime in the summer, the race seemed to become more unpredictable even beyond that. But somewhere in the last few weeks it seems to have hit a new stage: Still close, but with an edge to Democrat Jeff Merkley.

You could see it in analyses coming out just today. From Charles Cook (in his Tuesday email), the veteran national analyst: "Republican nominee Bob Schaffer in the open seat in Colorado and GOP incumbents John Sununu in New Hampshire and Gordon Smith in Oregon all appear to be running behind their Democratic opponents by a handful of points. With just three weeks left, it's hard to see how they recover, barring an unforeseen event."

And today in Congressional Quarterly: "Despite attempts to link himself with high-profile Democrats, Republican Gordon H. Smith is facing an increasingly difficult battle for votes in the highly competitive Oregon Senate race.

Due to Smith’s perceived challenges, continued Democratic growth in the state of Oregon and Smith’s failure to gain a strong lead in recent polls, CQ Politics is changing the rating of the race from Leans Republican to No Clear Favorite, our most competitive category." But bear in mind that CQ is loathe to lean a race which includes an incumbent, toward a challenger: There's a built-in lean toward incumbents. Calling it "no clear favorite" equates to "leaning Democratic" for most of us.

Cal it partly the atmosphere: Democrats in many places are being boosted. And maybe the negatives in campaigning: Both Smith and Merkley may be absorbing hits for it, but the effect even of that is to equate them. Precious few of the usual advantages of incumbency seem now to be doing Gordon Smith much good.

ALSO A New York Times article out today, focusing on the Oregon Senate race, is worth a read in reviewing some of this.

And this quote from Bill Kennemer, the Republican Clackamas County commissioner running for state representative: “I was going door to door the other day and someone asked, ‘Why don’t you put “Republican” on these fliers?’ I said, ‘Because I don’t want to lose.’ ”

Endorsement Sunday

Mid-October Sunday - sounds like time for a slug of newspaper endorsements. And so there are, a batch of them around the region worth consideration.

bullet Salem Statesman Journal: Endorsements toward the top of the ticket are splashier but tend to matter less because people have so many other sources of information about those races. (They can matter most, say, in contests for school district or highway commission.) That said, the Oregon Senate contest still looks so close that any factor could be a decisive tipper.

The Salem paper went for Republican incumbent Gordon Smith, over Democrat Jeff Merkley, partly on a key basis Smith has been urging: "Smith, who is seeking a third term, remains the best choice. He is in tune with Oregonians' common-sense, middle-of-the-road values. Republican Smith from rural Eastern Oregon makes a good team with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden from liberal Portland. Lots of candidates talk about bipartisanship. Smith delivers on it. He and Wyden collaborate on issues that affect everyday Oregonians: the environment, health care, children's welfare, veterans' affairs, immigration and more." So we now have Eugene and Astoria for Merkley and Salem for Smith (which is where we imagine the Oregonian will go).

bullet Eugene Register-Guard: One of the most interesting races in the Northwest this year is the mayoralty of Eugene, where former Mayor Jim Torrey is trying to unseat his successor, Kitty Piercy. There are lots of layers here. In this non-partisan race, Piercy, more to the left, is a former Democratic legislator, while Torry (now registered as unaffiliated) is a former (2006) Republican candidate for the state Senate. But the more relevant layers have to do with which set of interest groups and which parts of town will dominate.

In endorsing Torrey (who we're inclined to think will win the election), the RG said that in the May primary election, "Under conditions that should have strongly favored a Democrat, Piercy fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright victory in the primary. A lot of Democrats and independents must have crossed over to vote for Torrey. That vote was a sign of frustration with what’s happening in Eugene City Hall. The frustration is deepest in north and west Eugene, where city government is seen to be controlled by a faction of the City Council that prevails because of Mayor Piercy’s tie-breaking votes. To many, these votes appear to either serve the interests of the parts of the city represented by the majority, as with some of the votes preceding acquisition of property at the head of the Amazon channel, or to disregard the interests of the parts of the city represented by councilors in the minority, as with the vote to terminate the West Eugene Parkway. Piercy is irretrievably identified with one faction of a split council, and there’s no reason to believe a second term would be different." (more…)

OR: Consequential senators

The Daily Astorian endorses in the Senate race for Democrat Jeff Merkley, over Republican incumbent Gordon Smith.

Compellingly argued, with an unusual historical background - with a good grounding in recent Oregon political history. Worth a read for reasons beyond the usual.

WA endorsements: TNT switch

The Washington gubernatorial endorsements - where the papers have the same two choices as for years ago - will be interesting to watch. Such as the Tacoma News Tribune's, which comes out in tomorrow's paper. The paper is going for Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire, a reversal from 2004 when it supported Republican Dino Rossi.

First came the point that "We liked Rossi in 2004 (and still do) for several reasons. One was the fact that he would have been the state’s first Republican governor in the 20 years since John Spellman left the office. There is real value in shifting party control of a state’s administration from time to time. State agencies develop cultures that, over time, can settle into complacency, stagnation and unexamined assumptions about how to spend public money. These tendencies can perpetuate themselves without occasional shake-ups. The election of a Republican governor would have shaken state government up royally."

But as to Gregoire: "Although we’ve had disagreements with her, we’ve been impressed by her overall performance as governor."

ID Senate: Center and right

Lewiston Senate

Larry LaRocco, Rex Rammell and Jim Risch debating in Lewiston

The Republican nominee for the Senate in Idaho, Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, looked - to judge from the expression he wore - at the Lewiston three-way debate as if he was unhappy about being there. He may have calculated that if he showed up at the debates organized by his two main opponents, he would be the main target, attacked from left and right. If so, he was right. But the Lewiston rounds also left us with a much more nuanced sense of Risch, and what he's about.

It has put him in, strangely enough, the political middle. Or maybe, at times, outside the spectrum - not a bad place to be.

This was hammered in most strongly at one point, toward the end of the debate, when Lewiston Tribune editorialist Jim Fisher asked him if he was a far right conservative. Risch replied that "I am pro life, I'm a strong second amendment supporter - you weave all those together and ... I don't know that labels are something that works very well. On a given issue, I may have a feeling one way and on another I have a strong feeling that way ... I've had people classify me as a far right-winger and others classify me as leaning left ..."

That makes the first occasion in our recollection that Risch, given an opportunity (especially if given an invitation), failed to describe himself simply as a conservative. But then, what is conservatism nowadays? Democratic nominee Larry LaRocco described himself as a "moderate," and independent (and formerly a Republican candidate) Rex Rammell as a "down the line conservative." In 2008, Risch may actually be the hardest of the three to define. (more…)