Nigel Jaquiss writes in an excellent article in Willamette Week about the unexpectedly tough race for reelection Oregon Governor Kate Brown is facing:
Brown’s path to re-election should be easy. She’s running in one of the bluest states in the country. The economy is strong and unemployment remains at record lows. A volcanic hatred of President Donald Trump energizes her Democratic backers.
Jaquiss considered critiques of Browns leadership style, the role of gender bias, and voters’ lack of knowledge about her accomplishments. He also noted that:
Over the past month, WW has spoken to Democratic voters who say they are abandoning Brown. During those conversations, three themes emerge repeatedly: Oregon’s frayed social safety net, a sense of lawlessness on the streets, and a failed educational system.
These are all good points and good questions. Here’s what I think is missing from the analysis.
Oregon is considered one of the bluest when you count up the number of elected Democrats and Republicans. We know there is great polarization in Oregon with the Democratic base being far left and the Republican base far right. Perhaps that’s why Democrats make up just 35% of the voters and Republicans are only 26%. The other 39% of non legacy party voters lean relatively evenly between Democrats and Republicans and are most are “moderate” (which I define as one standard deviation from the midpoint). Which means that the Democratic candidates have always relied on attracting at least half of the non legacy vote. Those 55% Democratic statewide wins really 35% Democratic and 20% more moderate non affiliated and Independent leaning voters.
Governor Brown is very popular among the Democratic Base and the Democratic party in general. Her high negatives are because she is simply not very popular among non affiliated and Independents, even those who lean Democratic. Mr. Jaquiss’s article reports as much.
Why is Governor Brown so popular among her base and unpopular among non affiliate and Independent voters? For the same reasons. She has a leadership style and skills that are very effective and popular among the most partisan Democrats and she has consistently delivered for her base. Whether it’s protecting PERS or strict environmental regulations or a narrow special interest policy immensely popular with those that make up the Democratic base, the coalitions that make up the Democratic Party have always been able to count on Kate Brown. It’s not her leadership style that non affiliated and independent voters dislike, it’s where she leads.
Non affiliated and Independent voters who generally vote Democratic may prove this year that when the Democrats offer a candidate who has built a career on pleasing her base they are ready to reconsider their leanings and their alternatives.