Voters signal 7 election trends

It’s the taxes, stupid.

That new political mantra might guide Oregon campaigners after Tuesday’s primary election.

Oregon voters pummeled any candidate or proposal associated with higher taxes.

They shot down Salem’s Cops and Kids measure, despite support from much of the local business establishment.

They denied Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, a shot at a congressional seat, though she had the blessing of Republicans in the White House.

And they dumped Rep. Vic Backlund, R-Keizer, from his legislative seat, though he’s one of the most widely known and well-liked leaders of his community.

Oregon’s primary was a snoozer compared to most states, because the presidential nomination was decided months ago.

Yet there were seven intriguing developments Tuesday that provide hints of a grueling general election to come in November.

1. The Measure 30 curse is alive and well

State Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem, and Rep. Vic Backlund, R-Keizer, were punished for supporting a budget-balancing tax increase in 2003 that was trounced by voters when placed on the Feb. 3 ballot as Measure 30.

Lake Oswego attorney Jim Zupancic entered the GOP primary for Oregon’s 5th District congressional seat as the underdog against the better-known Winters. But Zupancic used Winters’ pro-tax vote as a “one-note issue that he drummed on, and I think it was effective,” said U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley, D-West Linn, who now faces Zupancic in the fall.

Political newcomer Kim Thatcher, who owns a Keizer road construction services company, had similar success attacking Backlund.

Another political novice, Goli Ameri, used Measure 30 to score a lopsided primary win against two Republican rivals in northwest Oregon’s 1st District congressional seat, said GOP political consultant Chuck Adams. Ameri devoted campaign resources to collect 12,000 petition signatures against Measure 30, earning credentials as an anti-tax crusader.

Now Republicans are more confident about their prospects for regaining control of the Oregon Senate.

If Republicans win four swing Senate races in November, Adams said, they can turn the Senate’s current 15-15 lineup into a 16-14 GOP majority. Democrats in each of those races supported Measure 30.

2. Voters are skeptical of incumbents

Don’t be surprised if some sitting politicians run next fall as if they were outsiders. That’s a strategy that Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard used to get re-elected in Tuesday’s primary.

Oregon voters feel alienated by politics right now and treated several incumbents unkindly.

Winters and Backlund weren’t the only ones. Portland City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, the overwhelming favorite for mayor, managed only second place despite outspending his nearest rival 15 to 1.

Two former lawmakers trying to make comebacks — Ashland Democrat Judy Uherbelau and Merrill Republican Del Parks — never made it out of the primary. Neither did Jim Thompson of Dallas, an appointee to the Oregon House who lost a GOP primary to Brian Boquist of Dallas — a two-time congressional candidate, but who shunned endorsements and largely spent his own money.

“People are in a cranky, sour mood,” said Democratic political consultant Mark Wiener. “They’re just not interested in people whose names they recognize.”

3. Democrats are more energized than Republicans

Voters’ anti-tax mood favors Republicans in the fall. But Democrats seem more fired up politically by their anger at the Bush administration.

Democrats equaled or topped Republican voter turnout in many parts of the state, though Republicans had more contested primaries.

In the 5th Congressional District, Zupancic boasted about his chances of defeating Hooley because Republicans have a 7,000-voter advantage in registration. Yet 2,500 more Democrats voted in Hooley’s lopsided primary against Andrew Kaza than Republicans casting votes in the marquee Winters-Zupancic matchup.

Marion County Republicans faced contested primaries for secretary of state, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and four Oregon House districts. Marion County Democrats had a choice in token primaries for president, secretary of state and U.S. House. Despite that, Democratic turnout in Marion County was 54.3 percent, nearly equaling Republicans’ 55 percent turnout.

“If I was with the Oregon Republican Party, that would give me some serious heartburn,” Wiener said.

4. There’s a new anti-tax force in partisan races

Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy led the campaign to defeat the 2003 Legislature’s tax increase, then knocked Backlund from his seat by pumping almost $40,000 in services to Kim Thatcher’s challenge. Two for two.

The group’s record is mixed elsewhere. Rep. Susan Morgan, R-Myrtle Creek, also voted for the tax increase and almost became a target of the organization.

“We decided not to, largely because Susan is good on a number of other issues, particularly business regulation and natural resources,” said Russ Walker of Keizer, the group’s Oregon director. “And when it came to Vic Backlund, it wasn’t just about taxes — it was about a lot of issues.”

Morgan retained her support from the timber industry in her rural district; her primary opponent raised just $6,000 — none from Citizens for a Sound Economy — and Morgan won with 60 percent.

Oregon Citizens for a Sound Economy also gave initial endorsements to Jim Thompson and Chris Blackburn for Oregon House seats, then gave dual endorsements — and some last-minute efforts — to eventual GOP nominees Boquist and Mac Sumner of Molalla, who are members of the group.

Having raised $50,000, Citizens for a Sound Economy lags behind the state’s major business and labor groups. “But it does indicate one thing — candidates who embrace what we call fiscal responsibility can succeed,” Walker said.

5. Republicans are providing minorities more opportunities than Democrats

Republicans insist they don’t practice affirmative action in recruiting candidates. But they are offering two new minority candidates this fall in state and federal races.

Sal Esquivel, a Medford Latino, is running for the House. Goli Ameri, an Iranian immigrant, is running for Congress against U.S. Rep. David Wu, D-Portland, who is from Taiwan.

Esquivel and John Lim of Gresham, a Korean immigrant, were named in recent months to fill Republican vacancies in the Senate. That gives Republicans four minorities in the Legislature, compared with only two for the Democrats. Lim, a senator from 1993 to 2001, also is running for the Oregon House.

Democrats now have fewer minorities in the Legislature than at any time since 1975. Rod Park, a Korean-American, ran as a Democrat for a Gresham-area Senate seat but lost in the primary.

6. Record spending will extend into the fall campaigns

The spring barrage of TV ads for and against President Bush and John Kerry was a preview for the fall blitz that Oregon’s swing-state voters will see and hear, given how closely Bush lost the state to Democrat Al Gore four years ago.

The McCain-Feingold law has changed some of the federal rules. However, a lot of money will flow to ads, get-out-the-vote efforts and other activities. “The amounts will be completely outside any frame of reference that they have seen in the past,” said Democratic political consultant Wiener.

If Republicans target Democratic congressional seats in the 1st and 5th districts, said Republican political consultant Adams, “you’re going to see record amounts of money spent on those races.”

Records might extend to races for the Oregon Senate, where contests for any of four key seats might top the record of $1 million set two years ago. None is in the Mid-Valley.

7. Expect heavy voter turnout in November

Primaries draw fewer voters than general elections, largely because of Oregon’s closed system that limits choosing of nominees to registered-party voters. The estimated 46 percent return of ballots statewide is on a par with the 2002 primary and slightly less than the 51 percent in 2000.

Nov. 2 will be different, particularly if measures such as a constitutional ban on marriages of same-sex couples find their way onto the ballot. But Oregon is unlikely to have the near-record 26 ballot measures that voters faced in 2000, when

80 percent of registered voters cast ballots. The modern turnout record was 84.4 percent in 1992.

No matter what, said Troy Nichols, who will be in charge of the campaigns for Oregon House Republicans, “turnout is going to be through the roof.”


KOBBI R. BLAIR / Statesman Journal file

Elections clerk Dorothy King brings ballots into the Marion County elections office to be counted Feb. 3, when Oregonians voted on Measure 30, a proposed tax increase that failed. Elections clerks Jon Craig and Kathy Allen-Bentler also tend the ballot drop-off station.

Steve Law can be reached at (503) 399-6615.

Peter Wong can be reached at (503) 399-6745.