Political scientist: Follow the money for governor
A Pacific University political observer says the flow of campaign money in the summer will tell whether Republican Knute Buehler has a real chance of unseating Democratic Gov. Kate Brown on Nov. 6.
Jim Moore says Buehler will have to unify Republicans — the two-term state representative from Bend won a contested May 15 primary, but with just under half the votes — and show he can craft a campaign message that will attract nonaffiliated and even some Democratic voters.
In their previous encounter, for Oregon secretary of state in 2012, Buehler won 43 percent to Brown's 51 percent.
Moore said Buehler will have to poll higher, in the mid to upper 40s.
"If he is that high, then he has a shot and the money will come to him. If he isn't, the money won't come," Moore said at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum.
"Watch the money coming in, and we will be able to tell what the polling says about where he is in this race."
As a Republican — the party claims only 26 percent of Oregon's 2.7 million registered voters, behind nonaffiliated (31 percent) and Democratic (36 percent) voters — Buehler has an uphill battle.
A Republican won the Oregon governorship most recently in 1982, when Vic Atiyeh won a second term. (Moore's forthcoming biography of Oregon's 32nd governor is in the hands of editors.)
Republicans Kevin Mannix came close in 2002, and Chris Dudley — who raised a record amount of $10 million — in 2010. But the Democrats' current streak of 32 years in the governorship is the longest in Oregon history.
Buehler did fend off primary challenges from Bend businessman Sam Carpenter, who won 29 percent, and retired Navy pilot Greg Wooldridge, 20 percent. But he spent $1 million of an accumulated $3 million to do so.
Carpenter aligned himself with President Donald Trump. Buehler did not, although Brown and Democrats seek to tie him to Trump, who lost Oregon to Democrat Hillary Clinton by 11 percentage points in 2016.
"It's an open question" as to whether Trump supporters back Buehler in the fall, Moore said.
Moore said another influence on the Nov. 6 election is potential ballot measures that may draw voters, although the deadline for submission of petition signatures is July 6.
The May 15 primary drew a low participation rate of 33 percent statewide. While Democrats and Republicans cast ballots at higher rates — party nominations in Oregon primaries are limited to registered party voters — Moore said voters not affiliated with any party participated at just 13.6 percent.
Moore said the numbers will be greater, but the patterns are likely to be the same for the Nov. 6 general election — and nonaffiliated voters usually split their votes in the same proportions between Democrats and Republicans.
Moore said he expects little change in the makeup of the Oregon Legislature, where Democrats have majorities over Republicans in the House, 35-25, and the Senate, 17-13. In 2016, none of the 60 House seats switched parties — a first since single-member districts began in 1972 — and only one Senate seat did, after a Democrat died in mid-term and a Republican won the rest of the term.
Moore said Senate seats to watch are District 15, where Democratic incumbent Chuck Riley of Hillsboro won narrowly — the winner was not decided for days — and District 3, where Republican incumbent Alan DeBoer of Ashland decided not to seek a full term. (In both races, the Senate Republican campaign committee maneuvered for its favored nominees, including Alexander Flores in District 15.)
Moore said Republicans in the House aim to thwart Democratic efforts to gain another seat, which would give them a 60 percent majority and enable them to pass revenue-raising measures without GOP support.
"What this means is that the Legislature isn't going to change that much," he said.
Washington County outlook
A Pacific University political observer says voters in Washington County and elsewhere will see more big influxes of out-of-state campaign money similar to what happened in the contest for district attorney.
The May 15 contest turned out to be no contest — Chief Deputy District Attorney Kevin Barton won by more than 2 to 1 against rival Max Wall — but Jim Moore says it is part of a pattern occurring throughout the country.
"It's a national trend," Moore said at a Washington County Public Affairs Forum. "We're going to see more of this, simply because the big money is saying Congress does not work, so we better go somewhere else to figure out how we change policies and the way the political system is working."
In Wall's case, the Oregon Law & Justice Political Action Committee contributed more than $700,000 in in-kind services to his campaign — and virtually all of that amount ($680,000) came from the Law & Justice PAC based in Washington, D.C., under the name of political consultant Whitney Tymas.
Tymas is a former staff attorney for the National District Attorneys Association. She was coauthor of an article in The Nation magazine in November 2016 advocating participation in district attorney and sheriff elections — and a major donor to such efforts across the nation is philanthropist George Soros.
Soros has supported the Partnership for Safety and Justice, which has advocated criminal-justice alternatives to jails and prisons in Oregon.
Other billionaires who have been involved in political efforts — often independent of candidates' own campaigns — are Mike Bloomberg, the former New York mayor; Charles and David Koch, and Tom Steyer.
But Moore said money isn't always everything.
Former state legislator Ryan Deckert of Beaverton raised $250,000 but finished third for the open Washington County board chairmanship being vacated by Andy Duyck.
The top two finishers were Kathryn Harrington of Beaverton, a Metro councilor and former high-tech worker, and Bob Terry of Hillsboro, a sitting county commissioner and retired plant nursery owner. They are in a runoff Nov. 6.
"It will be one of those rare races in which people can debate: Where is Washington County going?" Moore said.
Money did matter in two other board races May 15.
Pam Treece of Beaverton, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, easily unseated two-term Commissioner Greg Malinowski in District 2. She also raised far more than he did.
"She used her money well," Moore said. "There were lots of fliers; living in her district, I was flooded with them."
Former Hillsboro Mayor Jerry Willey defeated Kimberly Culbertson of Hillsboro for the District 4 seat Terry is vacating.
Willey also raised more money, but Moore said Willey — who sat on the council years before his two terms as mayor — was better known.
"People know him, so it's no surprise that he won," Moore said.
Combined with sitting Commissioner Roy Rogers, Moore said he expects no dramatic shifts in county government no matter who is elected chair Nov. 6.
"The balance will be the same, but different people will hold different seats," he said.
— Peter Wong