A quiet Oregon next year?

Pieces have yet to fall into place, in some ways, but as we sit here, at the calmish end of August and ponder what next year this time might look like – politically – the odds somewhat seem to favor . . . a really dull political season in Oregon. At least for the spectators.

Oregon has had a sting of lively election years. A hot Senate contest last year, a hot governor’s race two years before that. And much more.

Next year will see both the governor and a U.S. Senate position atop the ballot, as was lat the same in 2002, another hot election year. But what we think we’re hearing suggests next year may be less so.

First, Democrat Ron Wyden, who is commonly expected to run again in 2010, is unlikely to be seriously challenged, as was the case last time in 2004. Is there the possibility for something weightier? Sure, but it doesn’t seem likely. Wyden could still tick off fellow Democrats on health care, but in the end we’d guess that won’t happen, that he’ll support the consensus Democratic package, and that’s his only vulnerability on the left. And on the right? Nothing really new. There’s no indication Oregon has abruptly been moving to the right, and it would have to move a long way to impede someone with Wyden’s broad and consistent track record (63% in 2004, 61% in 1998).

Second, what we’re hearing is that former Governor¬†John Kitzhaber probably will run for governor, and there’s talk that announcement will be coming within days. We’ll need to attach some caveats and trapdoors to that, since anyone conclusively predicting what Kitzhaber will do is walking a minefield, and since he has considered but rejected so many other candidacies in the past. And an old ally of his, Brian Clem (two-term Democratic state representative from Salem) has been pounding the state, hard – on a schedule more like a month from election day, rather than many months. And Clem evidently would not oppose Kitzhaber if he runs. What we’ve heard – put it this way – is that the odds now seem to lean toward a Kitzhaber run. If that happens, it’s virtually game over: He clears the Democratic field of serious contenders, and Republicans are unlikely to throw a serious effort at him – he’d be too difficult. If Kitzhaber doesn’t run, don’t dismiss Clem’s potential. His recent tours around the state, with the rest of a heavy schedule and intensive organization, are laying some impressive groundwork, and Clem has some fine campaign skills of his own. And who’s the Republican to take him on, in a serious way, in the Portland metro area, where elections are won?

In the legislature, there looks to be minimal action on the House side. On the Senate side, the Democrats have a lot of seats up about two-thirds of those on the ballot next year), but only a few look substantially vulnerable.

The big action next year could come down to county-level Republican organizing, with the tax ballot issues as a lever for that effort.

Anyway. So it seems from here, from now. 2010 look almost like a blank slate just begging to written upon . . .

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