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Pacific University's Jim Moore says large flow of summer money may indicate better odds for GOP's Knute Buehler, who is trying to break a 32-year Democratic lock on state's highest office

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 in the November general election.BuehlerBrown

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, a 2012 bid for secretary of state, Buehler won 43 percent to Brown's 51 percent.

Moore said Buehler will have to poll higher, in the mid to upper 40s, to be successful.

"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 recent 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 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.

Republicans Kevin Mannix came close in 2002, and Chris Dudley — who raised a record $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, who garnered 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 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 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, 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.

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