We may have, in another couple of days, a better idea of what to make of the mass of polls regionally and nationally this year. (Our skepticism about many of them, which has been growing some years, is so far unabated.)

Meantime, check out this from Survey USA, on their latest poll on the Oregon governor’s race:

In an election for Oregon governor today, 10/29/10, 4 days until votes are counted, former Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber edges Republican Chris Dudley, according to SurveyUSA polling for KATU-TV in Portland.

Among the subset of voters interviewed on their home telephones, Kitzhaber is nominally ahead, by 4 points. Among voters who do not have a home phone, interviewed on their cellphones, Kitzhaber leads by 15 points. When the groups are proportionally blended, it’s Kitzhaber 48%, Dudley 41%. Kitzhaber, who served as Governor from 1995 to 2003, has gained ground among men, where in 3 SurveyUSA polls since mid-September, Dudley had led by 19, by 11, and now by 3 points. Oregon conducts elections entirely by mail. Dudley, a former Portland Trailblazer, leads 5:3 among those voters who rarely vote in midterm elections but who tell SurveyUSA they are uniquely motivated to vote this year. In some states in 2010, those uniquely motivated voters are enough to elect the Republican. But not here: Kitzhaber leads 5:4 among those who vote more frequently. Those more enthusiastic about voting this year than in prior years vote 5:3 Republican. Those enthusiastic this year vote 2:1 Democrat. Among the 60% of voters who tell SurveyUSA they have already filled out their ballot, Kitzhaber leads by 11 points. Among those who say they are certain to return a ballot, the race is effectively even. Dudley would need to outperform Kitzhaber substantially on the not-yet returned ballots to overtake.

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Oregon

Send a package by FedEx or UPS and you can generally track its progress toward destination. Here’s one of the side-benefits of vote-by-mail (or drop box) in Oregon: You can do the same thing with your ballot. Our guess is that a lot of Oregonians probably don’t know they can do this.

The way is to hit a site called MyVote, associated with the secretary of state. Fill in your name, birth date and some other identifying information (it’s not a long form), and it’ll pull up a report on whether you’re registered and whether your ballot has been received by the county and state.

Mine says: “Ballot Status: November 2, 2010 General Election Your ballot was received on October 21, 2010.”

Might not be a bad idea for Oregonians to run that double-check to make sure they’re accounted for.

Not sure, though, how you’d make such a system work as a practical matter in a polling place state, where the bulk of people vote on the same day.

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So what does the Tea Party crowd want?

Idaho Senator Mike Crapo heard a bit about that during a campaign stop in Sandpoint on Monday. Here’s a descriptive passage from the Daily Bee, which gives you an idea of what their expectations are and how Crapo (and presumably a number of other Republicans, including those like him not hard-pressed from the right) responded:

“Substantial conversation arose at speculation about the legitimacy of Obama’s citizenship and consequently, his presidency. Several attendees were eager to weigh in on the issue, one noting that if Obama’s presidency was invalid, all of his appointees would be deposed as well, resulting in a political coup. He then asked whether Crapo would support Obama’s impeachment if sufficient investigation occurred. Crapo replied that it was the House’s responsibility to impeach the president, while the Senate held the trial, and he would need more information before making a public statement.”

And you think Congress is ineffective now?

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Idaho

When in politics Topic A becomes too uncomfortable, the solution is ordinarily this: Change the subject.

So consider Idaho state Representative Phil Hart, R-Athol, who this year is fortunate in facing only a write-in opponent on the November ballot (albeit one who may be gaining some traction).

Topic A is legal troubles involving obligations and payments that most people accept but Hart has not. Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, who this year has broken a string of stories about Hart’s legal troubles, summarized one wing of them this way: “Hart owes more than $500,000 in back federal and state income taxes, penalties and interest, according to public records and liens; he’s been in a long fight with both the state Tax Commission and the Internal Revenue Service over the debt and has maintained that both federal and state income taxes are unconstitutional.” There is more, such as the recent revelation that in 1996 he took timber from state lands (enough to build his house with) without paying for it; he said last week he’ll pay, but that was only after the situation came to light through another Russell story.

So what should we make of all this? Last Thursday former U.S. Representative Bill Sali, long an ally of Hart’s, sent a letter (disclosed, again, via Russell) on the subject to fellow Republicans. His counsel, after saying in essence that Hart was wrongly accused (though none of the reported facts are in dispute):

“Why has Phil gotten so much media attention? In the legislature Phil has been an effective voice for freedom, less government and lower taxes. Apparently Betsy Russell can’t stand that and she wants to silence his voice.”

How many more politicians snagged in trouble are going to use this kind of dodge – it’s all the freedom-hating media’s fault – and get away with it? We may get some answers to that, in Idaho and far beyond, next week.

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The Tacoma News Tribune is developing a series of updated maps showing voter turnout in various regions of Pierce County. Overall, the paper says turnout seems to be running a little higher than usual, which would track loosely with the very-high turnout predicted by Secretary of State Sam Reed.

What’s less clear is how this compares to earlier years, since the Washington voting system – which has been moving to and now basically is mail-in voting – has been changing the last few cycles.

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This was not unpredictable – in fact, it was predicted: That big lead held by Democrat Walt Minnick in the 1st district U.S. House race in Idaho, over Republican Raul Labrador, has shrunk. Some weeks back, a poll commissioned by a group of Idaho newspapers put Minnick’s lead at about 10 points. The new one puts it at three (44% to 41%).

Of course it’s close. It was always going to be close, and it is not a lock. If the probabilities still narrowly favor Minnick, as they probably do, note the qualifier “narrowly.”

In the first district, somewhere around 45% of the voters just simply will not vote for the Democrat; Labrador could have sat home since May and pocketed that portion. (On the flip side, Minnick could take only around 30%, if that, for granted.) The key to the race is the next few percentage points, the relative handful that all of the sound and fury has been about. So it’ll be tight.

The rest of the polling is easily summarized: Republicans are way ahead everywhere else, moreso now than a month or two ago.

Their fellow party backers are coming home, completing their biennial flight patterns as they usually do about this time every other year.

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Not all political commentary is or has to be acidic. Here’s a piece of writing for those running who wind up, next week, winning public office. It comes from someone who’s been there, Susan Morgan, a Douglas County commissioner (Republican) writing about some of what happens after the election, on a more personal level.

Personal mileage may vary, but there’s plenty of food for thought in this commissioner’s essay (grabbed from an e-mail from one of her constituents).

For folks running for political office, the evening of November 2nd will be life changing.

If you get elected, here are a few things you should know, including that it’s now too late to back out.

First, don’t be surprised if every member of your family stops going to the grocery store with you. Soon to be gone are the days when you could nick into Ray’s for a gallon of milk and be back on your way in a few minutes. I am continually amazed by the great conversations I have had with people in Sherm’s or Fred’s exploring their opinions and sharing experiences. Almost everyone is very pleasant and interesting to talk with. First my kids, and now my grandkids, have spent significant time examining things like soup labels, waiting patiently for me to move to the next aisle. Now, letting my family know that I’m going grocery shopping leads to a flurry of suddenly remembered tasks that urgently need attention.

Second, don’t be surprised if you gain weight. Being elected to public office involves eating out a lot. After your first term of office, approximately half you body weight will be made up of prime rib, salmon fillets and chicken breasts. The other half of your body weigh will be comprised of my personal favorite: pot luck meals. I absolutely love the events where everyone brings a dish and they are all spread out on a long table. No one ever brings anything bad. In fact, every dish at a pot luck meal is fabulous, usually the chefs’ signature dish.

Third, your definition of a great evening will change. With so many events and meetings that are scheduled for after work when everyone is available, you won’t spend much time at home. Some days are long, especially when you start at a 7am breakfast meeting, and don’t punch the button on the garage door opener until around 9 in the evening. Coming home at 5:30, donning that funky sweat suit, and passing time hunched over a family game board, or reading a good novel starts to sound pretty exciting. Even weeding the garden starts looking good.

Finally, if you are part of an election campaign you are running in overdrive right now, focused on November 2nd, around 8:10 pm when the first set of returns come out. My advice to you is to quit reading this and get back to work.

I wish all candidates the very best, and thank you immensely for stepping up to public service. I know some of you will be disappointed on the 2nd, but I don’t think you will regret your experiences on the campaign trail.

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Oregon

Governments all over are scrambling to find ways to save money while coming as close as they can to providing the services people expect. Here’s one. As a part of overall government expenses it’s not large. But it’s an option that could save taxpayer money while impairing service not a bit.

The Oregonian has an article about it today: “Multnomah County officials have decided to dump Microsoft in favor of Google, expecting to shave as much as $600,000 a year from the county budget.”

MultCo is apparently the first governmental entity in the Northwest to do this, though a number of other metro areas around the country have begun to take the step.

They could go even further, since there are some small costs associated with Google: They could go to all-open source, and pay not software costs at all.

So ask yourself: Why aren’t more of them doing it?

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Oregon

Talk about a pertinent question.

Which is not meant to suggest automatically an answer that they are not. But it does pose a very useful question about what competence in voting – casting an informed, reasoned set of votes on a ballot – means.

Comes up here after we spotted this announcement from Washington State University:

Washington State University’s Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service presents another public lecture of the Coffee and Politics series titled, “Are American Voters Competent? Information and the Failure of Good Intentions” at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 27 in CUE 518.

Arthur Lupia, Hal R. Varian professor of political science and research at the University of Michigan, examines how information and institutions affect policy and politics. Lupia will discuss current research and its relevance for questions about what voters can and cannot do.

He studies how people make decisions when they lack information on topics such as voting and elections, civic competence and legislative-bureaucratic relations.

If you’re anywhere near Pullman and decide to go, let us know what you hear.

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Candidate campaign treasuries are being matched and even swamped by the outside money pouring into campaigns.

Look at this page from the Center for Responsive Politics, on outside money in the Washington race for U.S. Senate:

Bottom line … On Democrat Patty Murray, $7.3 million spent, of which $5.7 million was in opposition in and $285,497 in favor. On Republican Dino Rossi, a total of $4,097,532, with $758,117 in favor of him, and $3,339,415 against him.

Which has the net effect, among other thing, of making our politics even uglier than it already is. Wonderful.

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Obama Kitzhaber
President Barack Obama and former Governor John Kitzhaber at Portland/Kitzhaber campaign

Barack Obama the candidate had it two years ago when he visited Oregon, and he still has it – his campaigning orating skills are undiminished. His speech at Portland tonight, arranged principally to help Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber, was a solid rabble-rouser, which had to be exactly what the Oregon Democrats wanted.

The bulk of his talk was national in scope, making the national Democratic pitch, solidly partisan. But that’s what Democrats have needed, broadly beyond Kitzhaber’s own close campaign. Energizing the base is what Democrats need, and an event like this could send some electricity through the Portland Democratic community.

Obama’s speech included some familiar elements, like the bit about Republicans driving the car into the ditch. Some of the bits and pieces were a little less known, as when he said about Republicans that “the basis of their campaign is amnesia.” The speech was a collection of pieces, but it built powerfully toward the end.

He had some Oregon-specific material too. He did the classic politician bit (treated as a joke), about having a friend who was a Ducks fan and a brother-in-law coaching the Beavers, and saying he liked them both. He did a solid pitch for Kitzhaber – “Let’s talk about this governor’s race for a second. This should not be a difficult choice” – and ran through a number of specifics about Kitzhaber.

For his part, Kitzhaber mainly delivered a short campaign talk and then an introduction of Obama. That was a little more than just a pro forma introduction, though; he laced in specific praise about economic and health care parts of the Obama record, and expressed his support for them. He backed away from nothing.

(The congressional presence was, mostly. Both senators were there, and two House members, David Wu and Earl Blumenauer. A third Democrat whose district was close by but still a little further out, Kurt Schrader, apparently wasn’t there; was that a deliberate move tactically, or just a matter of, it wasn’t his district? The event was held within Bluemnauer’s district, and Wu’s was only about a mile away.)

It was well executed. It felt in all like an effort to bring several Democratic pieces together, with the hope significant juice flows as a result. Maybe it will.

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Would love to hear Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s justification – and as chairman and a voting member of the state Land Board, he is directly involved – in this:

A purchase and business venture by the state of Idaho, unveiled by David Frazier‘s Boise Guardian web site. Assuming the data is correct, it means the state of Idaho has gotten into the storage business in competition with a number of local private businesses.

Engaged in by the unanimously conservative, Republican, small-government, pro-private enterprise members of the Idaho state land board.

UPDATE Correcting the name of the web site (Boise Guardian), per a note from Frazier. Who also notes this: “FYI, guv and AG spokesmouths are all telling me it is the DUTY of the land board to maximize the return on investment and if that means getting into the retail storage business, so be it. It appears to be totally legal, but certainly not a good move from the standpoint of business owners or local governments that lose the tax revenues.”

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Idaho