By ROSS DAY
By nearly all accounts, the upcoming election on November 2 is going to cause a substantial shift in the political landscape both nationally and here in Oregon. On a national level, most political pundits believe that the Republicans are going to make tremendous gains in both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate.
In Oregon, Republicans are expected to pick up seats in both the Oregon House of Representatives and the Oregon Senate. Some observers actually think the Republicans in the Oregon Senate may actually take over the majority.
And then, of course, is the governor’s race in Oregon, where Republican Chris Dudley is facing off against Democrat John Kitzhaber. The Republicans have not held the governorship in Oregon since 1986. Currently standing at 24 years, the Republicans’ losing streak in Oregon is the longest active losing streak in the nation.
But there are signs that Chris Dudley is going to break that streak this year. First of all, the mood of the electorate nationally as well as in Oregon is decidedly against the Democratic Party. Oregon has been hit particularly hard by the recession, and has consistently out-paced the national average for unemployment. The Democrats have been in charge in Oregon over the last four years, and most voters blame the Democrats for the desperate circumstances that Oregon finds itself in.
Second is the Democratic candidate for governor himself. John Kitzhaber is a former governor of Oregon whose last four years were less than productive, and many people trace Oregon’s economic troubles to the year 2002, when the Oregon Legislature and then-Governor Kitzhaber held five special sessions to try and balance the state’s budget. Polls have shown that voters see John Kitzhaber as simply “more of the same” policies that have brought Oregon to the point where Oregon is facing a $3.2 billion shortfall in its budget and record unemployment.
Third, the Republicans have nominated in Chris Dudley an unconventional Republican who has a unique populist appeal, which causes some to compare Dudley’s candidacy to that of both former governors Vic Atiyeh and Tom McCall, two popular Republican governors. Chris Dudley has established himself as a common sense Republican who isn’t afraid to buck his own party when Dudley believes it is the right thing to do for Oregon.
Fourth, Dudley’s ideas are gaining momentum. Witness the recent grade Dudley received from two national education organizations – Education Reform Now and the Education Equality Project (both organizations are heavily involved in President Obama’s “Race to the Top” program) – which both gave Dudley’s plan to reform education in Oregon an ‘A’.
Fifth are the traditional tangible issues in every campaign. Chris Dudley has raised a lot more money than John Kitzhaber. Frankly, Dudley has raised more money than either of the previous Republican nominees for governor, enabling Dudley to effectively communicate his plan to lead Oregon’s comeback to Oregonians. Dudley’s fundraising advantage is significant, given the fact that the public employee unions in Oregon have already given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Kitzhaber campaign.
Finally, there is the theme that continues from the 2008 election – change. John Kitzhaber is a former governor of Oregon, whose ideas have been tried before, and as anyone who remembers the debacles masquerading as special legislative sessions in 2002 can attest, Kitzhaber’s ideas today are no different from his ideas of only eight years ago. The candidate that represents change in this election is Chris Dudley, not John Kitzhaber. That is a substantial advantage in this day and age for any political candidate.
There is no question that the political stars are lining up for a victory for Chris Dudley in November, even with the decidedly Democrat voter registration advantage in Oregon. It will be interesting to see if Dudley can take advantage of these opportunities and become the first Republican governor elected in Oregon since 1982.
Ross Day lives in Keizer. He is general counsel and executive director of Common Sense for Oregon.