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Oregon

Outlook: Toss-up


November 8, 2006 Update:

As the Crystal Ball predicted, Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) won reelection over Ron Saxton (R) with 51% of the vote.

June 1, 2006 Update:

Independent Ben Westlund dropped out of the Governor’s race on August 10, citing his inability to win. Oregon political observers believe this will help embattled Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski. Republican Ron Saxton might have benefited from a split vote, with Westlund attracting the ballots of some disgruntled Democrats.

May 31, 2006 Update:

Governor Ted Kulongoski won an unimpressive victory over his Democratic opponents in the May primary, with just 54 percent of the vote. He has a very tough opponent in Republican Ron Saxton, who is a relative moderate and is in a decent position to upset Kulongoski in the fall. Saxton has been able to secure the backing of both of his defeated GOP opponents, 2002 nominee Kevin Mannix and State Senator Jason Atkinson. Kulongoski is one of the 2 or 3 most endangered Democratic governors in the country.

March 27, 2006 Update:

Democrat Gov. Ted Kulongoski has got to be one of the most unpopular incumbents seeking reelection in the country, and yet there is no overriding reason why. He just hasn’t taken hold in the state. Nonetheless, the old saying “possession is nine tenths of the law” often holds true in politics, and he may well be able to hold on. But we are waiting to see the results of the GOP primary. The level of divisiveness in the outcome really matters in this case. On the other side, Kulongoski is expected to win his party’s nomination fairly handily, however.

Update:

Challenger Ron Saxton is proving a formidable opponent to Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski. Saxton has set new records for candidate fundraising in the state-he has raised more than $6 million to date, which surpasses the 2002 race record of $4.1 million spent by Kevin Mannix. Additionally, Rudy Giuliani and other prominent Republicans plan on making appearances to further the fundraising effort. Those funds are resulting in dividends among voters. The latest Rasmussen poll taken on September 27 has Kulongoski with a slight 5 point advantage over Saxton, but the most recent Zogby Interactive poll from September 25 reflects a much closer race with the incumbent holding on to a 2 point lead. With just under five weeks to go before the general election, Saxton is banking on his campaign funds and advertising to gain an edge.

Brenan Richards, Crystal Ball Pacific Regional Correspondent


Background

The Oregon gubernatorial picture is very unsettled. It is entirely possible that Oregonians could see a rematch of their 2002 battle between Democrat Ted Kulongoski and Republican Kevin Mannix, which Kulongoski won by three percentage points. On the other hand, there seems to be a general dissatisfaction with Kulongoski that may cost him in either the Democratic primary or the general election. Yes, Oregon is still a competitive state, with a slight Democratic edge. But of the West Coast states, it is the most open to Republican statewide candidates.

There are still-developing primary challenges to both Kulongoski and Mannix, and if they materialize fully, they could have a dramatic effect on the November race, depending on which party bleeds more profusely. Kulongoski will not be able to avoid a primary challenge, with Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson, a former state senator and assistant Democratic leader, already in the race and State Senator Vicki Walker considering it, but with no decision yet. Mannix will also face a primary battle since 2002 candidate Ron Saxton and State Senator Jason Atkinson are both bidding for the GOP nod.

There were even rumors that former Governor John Kitzhaber would challenge Kulongoski in the Democratic primary. Our sources tell us that he will not, though if he did, the Crystal ball would put a substantial bet on Kitzhaber winning both the nomination and the general election. On the Republican side, both Mannix and Atkinson are conservatives, with Saxton much more moderate and the choice of many of the GOP’s big contributors. It is possible that Mannix and Atkinson will split the conservative vote, enabling Saxton to be nominated. However, given the conservative nature of the Oregon Republican primary electorate, it is just as likely that one of the conservatives will emerge as the nominee.

Two other interesting notes in this race: the 2002 Libertarian nominee, Tom Cox, who received about five percent of the vote the last time around, has decided he will not run. If the Libertarians do not nominate an equally popular figure, then this may hurt the Democratic nominee in the general election, since Libertarians tend to take at least a few more votes from Republicans than Democrats. Also, Democrats have to be concerned that the Green Party, which did not field a candidate in 2002, may do so in 2006. Again, while the Greens draw voters to the polls who might not otherwise cast a ballot, it is probably true that the hurt the Democrats disproportionately. These are minor factors, but sometimes in a close race a minor factor becomes everything.

Candidates

Ted Kulongoski (I) – Democrat – current Governor and former state attorney general
Website

Ron Saxton – Republican – practicing attorney and former media commentator
Website

Ben Westlund – Independent – current state Senator
Website

Joe Keating – Independent – Pacific Green Party nominee; community activist and Vietnam veteran
Website