The Independent Party nominee for Oregon Governor will be decided May 15th and for perhaps the first time who gets the nomination is likely to have some impact on who is Oregon’s next governor.
There are four names appearing on the IPO ballot for Governor but only one, Patrick Starnes, is a credible candidate. Starnes is the only IPO candidate in the voters pamphlet, he is doing events and interviews. He has been endorsed by the Oregonian and Register Guard editorial boards.
But Republican Knute Buehler** and Democrat Kate Brown are both waging write in campaigns using mailers, facebook ads, and videos in an effort to take the cross nomination by write in. While it’s hard to determine how much difference the Independent cross nomination makes in a contest between a Democrat and a Republican, the candidates believe it’s more than zero. .
What would be the impact of a Starnes, Buehler or Brown nomination?
If Patrick Starnes is the nominee: Starnes is running as an “independent moderate solutions based candidate”. His primary issue is campaign finance reform.
If he’s the IPO nominee he should earn votes from independent centrists who are frustrated with both the Democratic and Republican Parties. He could also win votes from two other factions who would normally vote Democratic. First, moderate Democratic leaners who may be unwilling to vote Republican but aren’t afraid of a Governor Buehler. Second some progressive Democrats who are fed up with the Oregon Democrats lip service to campaign finance reform and see a Starnes vote as sending a message to the current Democratic elite.
If Knute Buehler is the nominee: If Buehler is the IPO nominee he is in a good position to reach out to i/Independent voters as “one of you”. Buehler organized the first Independent caucus meeting in the State Legislature. He has earned past IPO nominations, and has worked on non partisan redistricting with IPO leadership.
If Kate Brown is the nominee: Governor Brown has done little as Governor to work on IPO issues. She has done nothing on independent redistricting or campaign finance reform. If she wins the IPO nomination, she will earn little active support. Sure, winning the IPO nomination will earn some votes, but more importantly it stops Buehler or Starnes from getting the nomination.
Two out of Three Outcomes bad for Brown
The Governors race could be close. Polling shows that Governor Brown is in a weak position, with an approval rate below 50%. Voters are frustrated and unhappy and the Democrats are the party in power. While the national tide may be blue, Oregon has proven to be an outlier in the past. If 2018 is about anti incumbency or if voters focus on state issues rather than national issues, Oregon Democrats may under perform as compared to national results.
The other factor that Democrats fail to understand is the concern among independents and moderates about the almost certainty that Democrats will get a super majority in both Oregon houses. Independent and moderate voters may not believe Starnes can win the race, but a vote for Patrick Starnes can still be a double win.
First, it sends a message to the Democrats that they MUST undertake campaign finance reform and un-rig the system. In fact if Starnes can build support before November, Brown and all Democratic candidates may have to start making campaign finance reform a part of their candidacy. Second, if a vote for Starnes causes Knute Buehler to win the Governorship it will strengthen the hand of more moderate Democrats in the Legislature. Democratic legislators will have to negotiate with moderate Republican Buehler on the budget, PERS, and taxes or face veto after veto.
That possibility doesn’t send fear into the hearts of independent or Democratic leaning centrists.
If Starnes wins the IPO nomination – which is the most likely outcome – it will be more a danger to Brown than to Buehler. And it could make a difference in a tight race.
For doubters, remember in the 2016 election for State Treasurer Independent nominee Chris Telfer earned 9% of the vote while Democrat Tobias Read had 44% and Republican Jeff Gudman had 42%. Today, voters are even more frustrated, and Starnes is running a much more active campaign than Telfer did in 2016.
** Note: I’m assuming Buehler wins the Republican nomination. If Wooldridge or Carpenter wins the GOP nod, independent moderates who lean Democrat and progressive campaign reform advocates will vote for Brown who will win easily