Writings and observations


A Dudley greeter at Dorchester, early on/Stapilus

There was a tea party and Sarah Palin presence of sorts (the latter being a cardboard cut-out) at this weekend’s Republican Dorchester Conference. But they weren’t in the Necanicum Room, where most of the candidates, organizers and vendors could be found; they were toward the end of a hallway off to the side.

The tea accoutrements weren’t especially visible elsewhere either, at least on Friday, at the Oregon Republican (unofficial but highly established) event, held again this year at Seaside. They didn’t have their kind of candidates much in evidence, either.

Dorchester felt like a contrary mix. More optimism than four years ago, and on surface impression a bigger turnout. (A positive indicator for Republicans – House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, said at the Dorchester opening that candidates for 58 of the 60 House seats were present; an impressive display.)

But not some other things.

The nominees for governor (speaking at Dorchester) are Allen Alley, businessman and former staffer for Democratic governor Ted Kulongoski, legislator (Senate and House) John Lim and former NBA basketball player Chris Dudley. Their approaches, and the distinctions among them in the crowd, were clear enough.

Dudley got the loud response – a snap response for him personally. He had a visual advantage, physically towering over the other two. (In his opening statement he added to it by standing in front of the podiums, poised there tieless and coatless in white shirt, the image of Jimmy Stewart. It was a strong image.

His discussion was less compelling, thin on content, and absent much by way of the applause lines candidates need. He noted that he had just posted a jobs platform on his web site, but he presented little content. His most reliable line was, “I’m coming in from the outside.”

Alley had a clearly organized support base in the audience, and got some cheers. He also had more substance in his answers, and remarked that “I’ve been putting together management teams, identifying markets.” He displayed plenty of energy, but somehow not a commanding presence – there’s a quality in his voice that didn’t connect. He sounded more like a manager than a leader: He described himself at one point, “I’m a managment-by-walking-around kind of guy.”

And his references to meeting with the opposition, seeking some compromises and in effect triangulating, didn’t seem to impress the Republicans. “You have to be willing to go anywhere at any time time to defend your positions . . . We have to win the independents. We have to win some moderate Democrats.” Strategically sound, and he got some applause for it. But it seemed half-hearted.

They did like his shouted closing statement, though: “I am sick and tired of them saying government can’t be run like a business.” (He seemed at times torn between delivering the red meat and reaching across the aisle – an ungainly mix.)

Lim actually had some of the best laugh lines, and argued repeatedly that he had after all gotten elected to the legislature repeatedly from Multnomah County – and “Don’t forget that.” But he isn’t an orator (if you’re not focusing his words can be hard to follow), and he seemed to have the least base of support in the crowd. (We’ll know more about that after the straw poll results are released Sunday.)

There was a little red meat here and there. Lim mentioned the idea of school vouchers, and the crowd went for that. (Although the discussion about taxes drew less audience cheering than you might have expected.)

But these are not really red-meat candidates. And the crowd, while wanting to support their candidates for governor, seemed to know as much.

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I was involved once with a political campaign in which the candidate had a long history of newspaper columns. One of the first jobs out of the launch: Review them all. Who knew what ticking time bombs might await? In that case, as it happened, there weren’t any big ones; or at least, his campaign (and the opposition, which must have been doing some due diligence too) never came up with any shocking.

Already, though, Oregon U.S. Senate candidate Jim Huffman, who looks like the probable Republican nominee against Democrat Ron Wyden, seems to have some issues with writings from the past.

Word that Huffman might run has been circulating for a while, and no sooner had the deal been done than Democrats pounced. They posted a page called “Meet Jim Huffman,” with some strong opening shots:

“When the Wall Street and bank executives who caused the financial meltdown started taking billions in taxpayer-funded bonuses, Huffman defended them in an April 2009 Oregonian essay titled “Outraged at Those Bonuses? Get Over It.” . . . Huffman signed a FreedomWorks petition supporting President Bush’s risky scheme to gamble Americans’ retirement money on Wall Street – a plan that would have given investment firms an additional $240 billion in management fees. . . . Huffman believes the only way to reduce health care costs is to restrict patients’ access to care, stating in an Oregonian essay that the ‘rationing of health care is unavoidable.’ . . . Huffman joined a 2007 FreedomWorks letter arguing that federal action to avert the mortgage meltdown was unnecessary because ‘market corrections have already begun.’”

And so on. When the Oregonian‘s Jeff Mapes interviewed him, he was described as “disheartened” about the early shot and said, “I’ve got such a vast amount of stuff I’ve written, much of which, frankly, I don’t remember.”

He or someone on his campaign probably had better, quickly. Wyden is a very strong favorite for re-election anyway, but shots like this threaten to wipe out Huffman before he even gains a beach head.

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