Impressions of the field: GOP, Corvallis

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Republican candidates speak out at a forum sponsored by Oregon State Republicans, at Corvallis. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

 

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RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

Most of this year’s Republican candidates for governor and senator turned up at the Corvallis – Oregon State University Republicans – forum this evening, enough of them to bring some contours to those nomination contests.

It was notable event, and clearly Republican – ticket for a gun raffle were on offer.

The major missing candidate was Monica Wehby of Portland, one of the Senate candidates and notably interesting for her fast raising of $500,000 for her campaign.

But four other Senate candidates, Representative Jason Conger of Bend, IT consultant Mark Callahan, former Linn County Republican Chair Jo Rae Perkins and Portland attorney Tim Crawley, were there. And three Republican candidates for governor: Representative Dennis Richardson, rancher Jon Justeson and real estate broker Bruce Cuff from Salem.

Overall impression: The two legislators, Conger and Richardson, overall seemed most likely to emerge with the nomination. Their talk, from opening and closing statements through a range of questions, seemed most general-campaign-ready, with a greater consideration of the counter arguments that would be thrown back at them on subjects from Obamacare to same-sex marriage.

Their approaches were arresting. Some of Richardson’s takes were quite centrist, almost moderate, or at times answering from the side. On education, he described Oregon K-12 as “the laughingstock of the nation,” but didn’t specify what he would do differently. On same-sex marriage, he took the striking (in the context) stance that Oregon probably would pass a same-sex marriage measure this year, and if he’s elected governor he’ll have to implement it – and left it at that.

Conger was the most polished of the candidates, a skilled speaker, but with a few exceptions – such as a flat call for repeal of Obamacare (which most of the other candidates also urged) – his answers were mostly vague. (On the minimum wage, he cautioned that wading in on that was playing “on the Democrats’ turf.”) He’ll need to sharpen them as the campaign goes on.

That may be especially true if Callahan, who also was a strong presence and clear speaker, takes hold in the Republican primary base. He might; more than any of the other candidates, he served up red meat, and did it effectively. “Our government is basically telling us they need to take care of us,” he said. “Common Core is socialist and it needs to be eliminated,” he said at another. On same-sex marriage, he made clear that he was opposed to the amendment, that “marriage is a religious institution.”

There were other statements of interest. On education and government action connected with it, Crawley said “We’re trying to create a Nazi Germany were everyone is uniform and all walking in line. We need to stop that.”

Maybe most startling, while the minimum wage drew mostly negative reactions, Justeson broke from the group to say that not only should the minimum wage be raised, but possibly it ought to be doubled. (The audience seemed taken aback.)

The candidates got a positive reaction overall from the audience of about 100. We’ll see how the field looks a few months out.

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