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A more conservative Clackamas?

Oregon City
Oregon City (when Blue Heron was still active)/Randy Stapilus

Over the long run, Clackamas County, the southern of the three Portland-area metro counties, has been a competitive place.

For several decades until 1994 Democrats held a small edge in party registration; the 1994 sweep broad in a Republican lead in party registration, when Democrats took higher numbers again. Its voting record is more varied, though. On the presidential level, it supported Democrats only when they won nationally (since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, only Bill Clinton twice, and Barack Obama in 2008). It voted in governor’s races Republican in 2010, Democratic in 2006, Republican in 2002, Democratic from 1990 to 1998 but nearly always Republican before that.

Sop you could say that shifts in Clackamas do happen: Its voters, as a whole, are not a lock.

An Oregonian article today makes the case that Clackamas is seeing a conservative surge (“Frustrated conservatives in Clackamas County gain momentum“), and on the evidence there’s something to it, but only to a point, and with a lot of asterisks.

“For some, the resurgence is simply part of the natural political rebalancing. But regardless of the cause, many county political leaders agree that the current resurgence – at times combative and uncivil – has real teeth,” the article notes. And there’s some reason for thinking so. Republicans did well in Clackamas in 2010 – its legislative elections were central to the Republican gains that year – and there’s an anti-Portland edge alive and well that isn’t really replicated in Washington County, its suburban counterpart to the northwest. In Clackmas, streetcar and rail developments from Portland south are controversial – not so much in Washington – and what might have been a modest and quiet $5 fee to repair a key bridge many county residents use (the Sellwood) was defeated at the polls. Conservatives and Republicans are highly active in Clackamas.

Economic concerns may be a little sharper in Clackamas than in the other two counties, and may be pointed up more visibly with the recent closure of the iconic Blue Heron paper mill at Oregon City. And a number of local governments (non-partisan) have seen seats shift from moderate or liberal incumbents to more-conservative challengers.

A few more points ought to be made, however, about all this.

Democrats remain a substantial party registration lead, by about 8,000 voters. The gap between the two parties is about two-thirds of what it was at its peak in 2008, but it has held steady for a couple of years – there’s been no recent change.

After 2008, Democrats held most of the offices, a large majority of them, in this competitive county; some correction probably was likely in any event. In 2012, Democrats will have some targets of their own, as well as some well-established candidates who aren’t running as incumbent (former House Speaker Dave Hunt, running now for commission chair, comes to mind) and the activism is more likely to cut both ways.

All of which suggests that Clackamas in 2012 is likely to give people in both parties some sleepless nights.

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