Summary: Gubernatorial candidate Ted Kulongoski takes Republican Kevin Mannix to task for his "extreme" position on abortion
Shrugging off criticism he's trying to shift attention from Oregon's troubled economy, Democrat Ted Kulongoski on Tuesday launched his fall advertising in the governor's race with a blistering attack on Republican Kevin Mannix's opposition to abortion rights.
Kulongoski's decision to immediately go on the attack is unusual. Candidates usually focus their first commercials on warm-and-fuzzy biographical spots extolling their virtues, particularly when they lead in the polls as Kulongoski has.
But Kulongoski has been roughed up by an ad run by an independent group attacking the Democrat's support for a tax increase, and his campaign strategists think Mannix is particularly vulnerable on abortion given Oregon's reputation as a state that staunchly defends abortion rights.
Mannix spokesman Mike Beard said that Kulongoski -- who earlier this month held a high-profile news conference to attack Mannix on abortion -- is once again trying to shift the subject from more important issues.
"Try telling the people with the pink slips right now that Ted Kulongoski's No. 1 concern is abortion," said Beard, arguing that Kulongoski doesn't want to focus on how to improve the economy and get the state out of its budget crisis.
Kulongoski spokeswoman Kristen Grainger made no apologies for focusing on abortion.
"Kevin Mannix sees it as a red herring," she said. "We see it as a great white that's going to bite him. . . . When he calls it a red herring, he's insulting the intelligence of the pro-choice voters of this state."
Kulongoski also began re-airing a biographical spot from the primary. But Grainger said most of the TV time bought by the campaign would be de voted to the abortion ad, which claims Mannix is "too extreme" on the issue.
Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts said Kulongoski may have been quick to go on the attack because voters are increasingly looking for change and may be more likely to tie Kulongoski to Democrat Gov. John Kitzhaber and the budget stalemate in the Legislature.
"This is a sign that the Kulongoski people aren't taking anything for granted," Hibbitts said. "This isn't a good time to be a front-runner, and people aren't happy with the way things are going."
Kulongoski found himself on the receiving end of early attack ads when he first ran for governor 20 years ago. The state was in an even deeper recession then, and Kulongoski was running close to then-Gov. Vic Atiyeh in polls in the summer. In early September, Atiyeh launched radio ads saying that "this is no time for Mr. Kulongoski's dangerous approach" on the economy, and Atiyeh wound up winning in a landslide.
Mannix also raised abortion as an issue during the primary when he sent out mailings pointing out that he was the only one of the Republican candidates who was "pro-life." And he attacked one of his primary rivals, Portland lawyer Ron Saxton, for not supporting a ban on the late-term procedure opponents call partial-birth abortion.
Mannix began his general-election advertising last week with an ad focused on the economy and leadership. However, a separate group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, ran a TV commercial statewide criticizing Kulongoski for saying in the spring that the Legislature should enact a temporary income-tax increase to help fill the state's budget shortfall.
Although the group says it is operating separately of Mannix, Grainger said she thinks the Citizens' ad is funded by people supporting the Republican candidate.
"I disagree that we're the first" to use attack ads, she said. "I think Mannix and his supporters went negative two weeks ago."
Russell Walker, who heads the Oregon chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy, said the group spent more than $116,000 airing the ad for a week and planned to air it again soon. He said the ad was funded by local donors he did not name. But he said they were "not necessarily" Mannix supporters.