Money is the root of 5th District primary

Since late last year, Jim Zupancic has attacked state Sen. Jackie Winters, his opponent in the 5th Congressional District’s Republican primary, as a tax-and-spender of the first order.

He is not about to change strategies now. Especially after winning an endorsement from Citizens for a Sound Economy, which built its Oregon profile by taking a tax increase that Winters had voted for in the Legislature to voters, who soundly rejected it.

Winters has continued to promote “her positive vision, her story” as a small-business owner who understands real-people challenges, job creation and the need to cut government waste.

She also has criticized Zupancic, a Lake Oswego lawyer, as a hypocrite on tax issues.

Although the decibel level is rising as Tuesday’s mail-ballot deadline approaches, the candidates’ chosen themes won’t change. Not as long as money is a prominent issue with voters.

All else being equal, “that is the battleground” in a Republican primary, says Chuck Adams, a political consultant. The debate centers on “who can connect with voters on finances and be believable.”

The message, appealing as it is to party stalwarts, probably will broaden before the November general election. The winner expects to face U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-Ore., and both major-party candidates will seek support from independents, who make up more than a fifth of voters.

Democratic rival

In the Democratic primary, Hooley faces Andrew Kaza, a businessman running an underfunded campaign to knock off the four-term congresswoman, who has laid away more than $1 million.

Rick Rolf, a consultant who has advised political candidates, agrees that a Republican primary easily narrows to voters “highly motivated by these money issues.”

Neither candidate, he says, wants “to be placed in a corner where he can be portrayed as a spender.”

That’s why the recent endorsement from the tax activist group was important, says Devon Lyon, Zupancic’s campaign manager. It underscores Zupancic “as the clear fiscal conservative in this race. . . . It hammers home our message,” one that also includes creating jobs as part of an economic recovery.

Winters doesn’t let Zupancic push her out of the antitax spotlight.

Darryl Howard, Winters’ campaign manager, cites her efforts to cut government waste during nearly six years in the Legislature. Winters also highlights being honored by Citizens for a Sound Economy as a “friend of the taxpayer” for her legislative work, although her mailed campaign material does not mention that the awards date to the 1999 and 2001 sessions.

Winters’ allegations that Zupancic is hypocritical are based on Zupancic’s run for the Legislature two years ago and his former role as chairman of the Lake Oswego School Board. He sounded more in favor of various taxes then, she says. Earlier this year, school advocacy lobbyists criticized Zupancic for what they say was a turnaround on schools and tax issues with his opposition to the legislative tax plan.

Tax stand supported

Lyon says Zupancic’s previous support for new taxes for schools was contingent upon a long-term plan supported by business and labor. The tax increase passed by the 2003 Legislature, he says, was a one-time budget-balancing bill with short-term effects.

Winters defends her vote for the tax plan by saying she could not agree to a budget supporting human services and schools, then turn against the measure necessary to pay for it.

Winters, who enters the final days of the campaign with about $90,000 in campaign money on hand, also points to the range of her endorsements. They include former Republican Gov. Vic Atiyeh, the National Rifle Association, the Oregon Health Care Association, the Oregon Forest Industries Council and Ag-Pac, a natural resources lobby group.

Zupancic’s backers include the North Clackamas County Chamber of Commerce; House Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village; Jack Roberts, the former labor commissioner; and Rep. Jeff Kropf, R-Sublimity. Zupancic has almost $60,000 in available cash.

Oregon Right to Life has endorsed both candidates.

Wide-ranging district

Hooley, the incumbent, has built support among the agricultural, small-business and timber interests in the varied, wide-ranging 5th District.

She returns weekly from Washington, D.C., to remind constituents who has represented them since 1997. Her campaign, says Jeston Black, her election manager, has been “stuff in the trenches,” with volunteers placing lawn signs and calling voters.

Kaza criticizes Hooley a supporter of the Bush administration, including the war in Iraq. Hooley counters with her votes against the Iraq war resolution and one of Bush’s tax cuts.

In the fall, Rolf says, the Republican nominee will have to add the Iraq war and other issues — such as health care — to the agenda. Without that transition, he says, “You end up with robotic adherence to this script of ‘Cut, cut, cut. I spend less, less, less.’ “

Until then, he says, primary candidates “know whom they are speaking to.”

Dan Hortsch: 503-221-8223, danhortsch@news.oregonian.com

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