"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Suspension in absentia

Jason Atkinson

Jason Atkinson

State Senator Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, who ran for governor in 2006 and emerged third in that Republican primary, has indicated he expected to run again this year. That was expected and made sense. He displayed strong campaign skills during his governor run, he has a strong constituency among active Republicans and especially among social conservatives, and seemed likely to become the immediate frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Because his Senate seat is mid-term next year, he would not be putting it at risk.

So his announcement that he will “suspend” activities – you can’t call it a campaign, because he has never actually announced as a number of other contenders have – changes in a big way what had been the expected dynamic for next year. (As a note: From all appearances, Atkinson seems not to have shut and locked the door to re-entry, but as he’s situated now it doesn’t sound likely.)

The Oregon Republican Party is dominated by conservatives, but it now faces a peculiarity: The probability, for the moment anyway, it will nominate a moderate who will get little backing or enthusiasm from conservatives. There are two Republicans in the field now, businessman Allen Alley and former legislator John Lim, both from Portland and neither with any great backing from most of the party core. Between them, Alley may have the edge, but either way a lot of conservatives may be wondering: Is this it? Have we slipped to the point that we can’t even generate a candidate for governor?

There is one other name circulating as a possible Republican contender for governor: State Senator Frank Morse, R-Albany. He could be an impressive general election candidate: He has some broad respect across the board (no one could credibly describe him as fringe or uninformed or incapable), but it’s far from clear whether he runs, and seems not to have made any major moves in that direction. And one other thing: He too is relatively moderate, and will not excite the Republican base. And when time comes to vote, you do need your base.

For a lot of Republicans, it has to feel like: Back to the drawing board.

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