Two years in a row this has happened: Oregon Republicans meeting informally, in two places, in recognition of two distinct views of what their party is about.
One of these is a long-standing Oregon tradition: The Dorchester Conference, founded in part by former Senator Robert Packwood, held each year (for many years) at Seaside. It is an informal event in that it isn’t a state Republican Party event; it is rather a gathering of Republicans who come together to talk about the future of their party, and the state. It dates back decades, and regularly has featured the state’s top Republican candidates and office holders. It typically attracts around 500 people, sometimes a little more.
The other event, held deliberately at the same time, is in only its second year: A “Freedom Rally” held in the Portland metro area (this year in Portland). It seems to be attracting more people – an estimated 1,500 this year – but its message is more narrow on the political band: Social conservatism on order, what’s often shorthanded as God, guns and gays. They are a specific reaction to Dorchester, where the attending majority has been moving in more socially moderate directions; abortion rights and same-sex marriage have found support there. And the group was more than just issue activists. The state’s one Republican in higher office, Representative Greg Walden, spoke there, and about 10 Republican legislators showed up as well.
(Since the two events were just about an hour and a half apart by road, some people likely tried to hit both of them.)
Read the news reports on the two events and you’ll get two very different perspectives on what the Republican Party is about, and why this party in Oregon’s minority is having such a difficult time. A number of speakers at Dorchester underlined it: As long as the Republicans in Oregon are more deeply split than the Democrats are (and they are), they’re going to have a hard time winning much.
And if you hear the same thing at the two events in 2016, they’ll likely prove prescient.