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Posts published in May 2010

Good counsel

This primary season is a point when many political aspirations are chopped off or get renewed, so it may be a useful point to pause and reflect on building impact in politics. There's usually a little innate doubt in this quarter about people who run for high office without having served, or at least run, for lower. It almost suggests, in some cases anyway, a disrespect and disregard for an important and complex line of endeavor. Sometimes people do run for higher office out of the box and do well; but those seem the exception, not the rule.

With that in mind, some comments from an open letter to Idaho congressional candidate Vaughn Ward from state Representative Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian. In it, Hagedorn recalled some comments he made to Ward when Ward was initially seeking support and gathering idea:

I clearly recall our conversations and when you asked for my advice and provided you 3 recommendations:
1) Join the Ada County Republican Party: This would have allowed you to better know the people that you would be working with, their thoughts and ideas that are needed to properly represent them and other Republicans like them throughout the state.
2) Run for a local office: This would have enabled you to learn how to manage communications that must happen between you and your constituents, the media and also the parliamentary procedures and rules that go along with working with the other elected members.
3) Don't overplay your military service: Almost 1/2 of Idahoans have worn a military uniform and are as proud of their service as you are. They know what their service taught them as well as what it did not prepare them for. Overplaying your service, no matter how honorable, risks belittling other's service contributions which is never appropriate. We all entered and served with the same desires of serving our country, the people of Idaho and our nation.

The points Hagedorn makes there, extended out to both parties and backgrounds in addition to the military, are excellent. (Ward, it has to be noted, basically ran afoul of all three, and has been paying for it; that payment may or may not include loss of a primary election he easily could have won.) When the next political cycle starts to crank in - and yes, that will be no so far away - political people of all stripes could give some heed to Hagedorn's advice.

Rossi in soon?

The news site Publicola reports that the wait is nearly over: Republican Dino Rossi plans to announce his entry into the U.S. Senate race, prospectively against Democrat Patty Murray, next week. The reason for the delay, it says, was that Rossi is "finicky" about choosing a campaign manager. (His old one is otherwise occupied.)

Publicola will be proven either right or wrong next week on Rossi's entry, but the explanation offered here seems thin. It might have more resonance if this were 2009, but this is almost-summer 2010. Delays of single days matter at this when you're talking about entering a race, and that would be true for a small-town city council, much less a U.S. Senate seat occupied by an entrenched, well-funded, well-organized incumbent. And in which you're entering a primary already filled with a small platoon of seriously pissed-off opponents, as some of them have made clear they would be if Rossi declares.

If Rossi does declare (we'll accept it as fact when it happens) and his sole reason for the delay is the search for a proper campaign manager, we'd write him off as a political incompetent. Far more likely - again, if he does enter - something else is going on.

OR: Morning-after impressions

A few more scattered thoughts about the Oregon numbers . . .

bullet As of this morning (with a few votes still out, but only a few) voter turnout was low: 35.9% according to the Secretary of State's office. it was lowest (21.4%) among those not affiliated with the two major parties; in primaries, their ballot is relatively short and don't include the higher-profile contests, so that's normal, but their numbers will rise in the general. Republicans got more of their registrants out to vote than Democrats, but only by a thin margin (42.2% to 39.9%) although they had more closely contested primaries than the Democrats did.

But this too shouldn't be forgotten for the general: Despite slightly higher turnout, Republicans cast significantly fewer votes than the Democrats did - 277,319 Republicans to 345,671, which splits at 44.5% to 55.5%.

bullet In the Democratic gubernatorial, John Kitzhaber won every county (all those as yet counted: Grant County still wasn't in). The places where Bill Bradbury came closest, holding Kitzhaber to barely over half, were small and remote counties almost sure to go Republican in the fall regardless: Curry, Harney, Klamath (the largest of the group, but very Republican), Lake, Morrow. Kitzhaber was well over 60% in all of the larger counties, suggesting a large and unified base to begin with.

Republican primary winner Chris Dudley topped 50% of the vote (in a somewhat more splintered field) in just two counties, small Sherman and Gilliam. The grace note for Dudley is that his third-best county was Washington (48.2%), the second-biggest in the state and often decisive statewide; and third-ranking Clackamas County (47.6%) was nearly as strong. And where he did less well? He lost to Allen Alley in Douglas, Curry, Malheur, Klamath, Josephine, Coos, Lane (which the only county where Alley cracked 40%), Union and Benton.

What interesting about those counties is that many of them are the same counties where conservative Bill Sizemore cracked 10%. Sizemore's best counties were Curry (18.3%), Lake (17.4%), Malheur (16.1%), Josephine (14.1%), Douglas (12.5%), Harney (12.1%), Umatilla (11.7%), Jackson (11.7%), Wheeler (10.9%). Otherwise known as the central heart of the Oregon Republican base. Hoe accepting of Dudley will they all be? Therein lies a question for his campaign to ponder in the weeks ahead.

bullet It's been noted elsewhere, but again: Incumbents in Oregon did pretty well. A number of congressional and legislative incumbents were primary-challenged; none lost. The state leadership challenge to Republican Representative Bob Jenson came close but failed.

bullet Let this be noted too: The two state constitutional ballot measures won big. They were not controversial, there was no organized opposition - but an electorate in the fury so often described by pundits might still have given them more of a contest than they get.

OR: Early returns

Conventional wisdom seems pretty much to be holding in the early returns around Oregon. For governor it'll be Democrat John Kitzhaber (who won very big) against Republican Chris Dudley (who won over Allen Alley, but much more narrowly). For Senate, incumbent Democrat Ron Wyden (who had only sliver opposition in the primary) against Republican Jim Huffman (a 41% - at present - plurality win, decisive but far from overwhelming - some of his backers may be surprised the number isn't larger).

Of note: In the last results we saw, Bill Sizemore, he of the legal troubles but also a solidly conservative philosophical view, was flirting with about 10% of the vote - more than the conventional wisdom expected. There may be some significance in this; we get into that later.

A close race: Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo holds a small lead over challenger (and Republican legislator) Ron Maurer. We suggested here that this nonpartisan race was a missed opportunity for Republicans, a potential win with enough resources and visibility; the numbers seem to be bearing that out.

To the Republican chart, with numbers as they were at about 45 minutes past closing time:

District Establishment % Insurgent %
US House OR 1 Cornilles 39% Kuzmanich
Keller
28%
30%
US House OR 5 Bruun 64% Thompson 36%
US House ID 1 Ward % Labrador %
US House ID 2 Simpson % Heileman
Mathews
%
%
OR House 58 Jenson* 53% Mathisen* 47%
OR House 57 Smith* 62% MacLeod* 38%
OR House 17 Sprenger* 68% Cuff* 32%
OR Senate 19 Griffith* 49% Kremer* 51%

-
Early take: The insurgency seems to be falling short.

Conservative metrics

Here's a little chart we'll be running, and gradually filling in, over the next week-plus as the Oregon and Idaho primaries unfold. It may give us some numbers to analyze with, when it comes to getting an insight into the percentages associated with the various components of Republican conservatism in the Northwest. (For that reason, Washington readers may want to pay attention too.)

District Establishment % Insurgent %
US House OR 1 Cornilles % Kuzmanich
Keller
%
%
US House OR 5 Bruun % Thompson %
US House ID 1 Ward % Labrador %
US House ID 2 Simpson % Heileman
Mathews
%
%
OR House 58 Jenson* % Mathisen* %
OR House 57 Smith* % MacLeod* %
OR Senate 19 Sprenger* % Cuff* %
OR Senate 19 Griffith* % Kremer* %

-
The point here is that, on the Republican side (and there really aren't any notable Democratic counterparts in the Northwest races) there's a discernible conflict between "establishment" conservative candidates - generally defined as those who declare themselves conservative and have strong endorsement and party organization support - as opposed to the "insurgent" candidates, who may be more reliant on grass roots and in most cases may be closer to the Tea Party and similar organizations.

This isn't a perfect chart, of course. In the Idaho 1st, Vaughn Ward has been beset with an enormous number of late-breaking campaign problems unassociated with his views on issues. In the 2nd, Mike Simpson is an incumbent (unlike the other congressional candidates here), and has two major opponents. And the Oregon legislative races (*) are an inversion of sorts. There, two Republican incumbents (Bob Jenson and Greg Smith), who are mostly conservative, have been targeted by a number of state party leaders and allied organizations for going south on recent critical tax votes. Incumbent Sherrie Sprenger is being challenged from the right, sort of, though the actual philosophical differences seem harder to parse than the challenger's proclamations that he's more conservative. Steve Griffith is a moderate attorney and the kind of Republican who might win in a Portland suburban district, and so has some support among party pragmatists; but how will he do against the conservative activist organization-backed Mary Kremer, who also has a good deal of party organization support?

These are among the top-line questions we'll be watching on this and next week's Tuesday nights. Will patterns emerge? Stay tuned.

Reviewing the conventional wisdom

At least it feels as if there's safety in numbers. The Oregon Punditology survey - predictions by watchers of politics around the state, done for fun and bragging rights - for the primary election just filed in yesterday, and today the numbers are in. This is worth some little attention because it constitutes the closest thing anyone will have to a comprehensive survey of what is the "conventional wisdom" about what will happen.

A blog post with many of the details is up at Blue Oregon. Your scribe was among the participants, and in all but a few cases sided with the majority (or plurality). Read the BO post; comments on it follow below.

The governor's race bifurcates: The Democratic primary has the look of a slam dunk for John Kitzhaber, while the Republican is a little more uneasy. I was with the majority marking down a Chris Dudley win but by less than a landslide, and with the majority figuring Bill Sizemore will not hit a double digit percentage. The odds seem to favor both results. But Sizemore could still surprise with a Republican base searching for a straight-conservative contender; you can make a reasonable argument for him passing 10%. And the reaction of voters, Republican voters, in large numbers to either Dudley or Allen Alley remains as much guesswork as anything else. This race will be a true object of scrutiny.

Almost everyone figures primary wins by incumbent Treasurer Ted Wheeler and Representative David Wu (other major incumbents didn't have a strong enough opponent to merit the survey question), and primary wins by Rob Cornilles, Art Robinson and Scott Bruun. I was with the majority on all, the only one giving me pause being Bruun's contest with the insurgent (sort of Tea Party) candidate Fred Thompson (not the former presidential candidate, although who knows how many voters may be confused?); if the activists on the right are strong enough, Thompson might have a shot. If that upset happens, expect a lot of chatter about it on Wednesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo was an overwhelming expectation for re-election, but this is a race that merits some thought. In this nonpartisan contest, Castillo (who has served in the legislature as a Democrat) was running against Ron Maurer, currently a Republican legislator. This is a place where, as matters stood a while back, a Republican seemed to have a solid statewide shot. No party labels will appear on the ballot. Maurer picked up considerable support during his campaign, including a bunch of newspaper editorial endorsements. And Castillo has had some bad headlines. I'd have taken a flyer on Maurer winning this race but for what has seemed like a barely-visible campaign. Without that, the default goes to the incumbent.

Well, maybe. We'll all know soon enough how solid the conventional wisdom really is.

Maryanne v Maryellen at Government Camp

A great small-town story in the Oregonian about the political debate going on in Government Camp. It's a matter of governmental policy, even a technical matter - whether the community, which clings to the side of Mount Hood to the southeast and uphill from Portland, should become an incorporated city. The issue is on the ballot, and the results will be (or should be) out on Tuesday.

There are wonkish pros and cons to such things - tax considerations, regulatory control, legal mandates and liabilities. But here is where politics gets personal, especially in smaller communities:

"The future of one of Oregon's oldest communities comes down to a referendum this week on a decades-old rivalry: Maryanne vs. Maryellen. The two women – Maryanne Hill and Maryellen Englesby – have spent a combined 163 years in the alpine enclave on the southern shoulder of Mount Hood, more often than not taking opposing sides of community issues. And now, with the question of whether Government Camp should become Oregon's newest city on the May 18 ballot, they are leading the respective charges for and against incorporation."

Anyone who lives in a small town will get this. (In our small town of Carlton, the city was enmeshed not long ago with a debate over whether to maintain its police department or contract for police services with the county; the course of the debate had less to do, as a matter of raw politics, with the very real financial and other issues involved than it did with the people at city hall and a group of their persistent critics. Thus is it ever.)

For anything not familiar with small-town politics as it is, this story will provide some entertaining enlightenment.

The problem of an anti-leadership organization

This site has been among those arguing for some time that the influence of the Tea Party groups have been heavily overrated. For your consideration today . . .

On Friday, the Boise Tea Party sent out word that it had endorsed candidate Raul Labrador in his Idaho 1st district Republican primary, over the other major candidate, Vaughn Ward. But it turns out, according to the Idaho Conservative Blogger, that the Tea people are far from unified on this. He cited a number of emails including this striking one:

“The Tea Party made this endorsement of Labrador with NO polling of its members or supporters. We have been active and financially supportive of TPB since it's inception and we are appalled at this endorsement. By their very actions, they are behaving like the elitist, tyrannical Washington insiders they purport to be fighting against.”

Tyranny and elitism seem to get defined pretty far downward, pretty quickly, these days. But then, to read the sloganeering involved here, there is no floor: Anarchy is the next stop on that elevator. And anarchists make for poor group organizers.

Authenticity problems

If the matter of authenticity has become a serious issue in the Idaho 1st District Republican campaign, this latest constitutes yet another load of bricks dumped on the Vaughn Ward campaign.

Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review made a major catch in tracking the original sources for half of Ward's position statements not to Ward but to other sources on line.

Examples: "The apparent duplications included a reference to “my roadmap legislation,” which actually was introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whose campaign website contains an identical paragraph. Others include Ward’s statement on tax relief, which is a repeat of a statement on the campaign website of third-term U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Kentucky."

In an interview with Russell, the campaign seemed to describe what happened as a technical glitch - raw material intermixed with new stuff. But the campaign was also quick to disable links to what's been there for a long time - a sign they knew something was wrong.

When have you ever seen a major Northwest campaign on which so much bad news has been rained in the last two to three months before a primary? This is looking almost spooky. But a whole lot of it sure looks self-imposed.