Though I’m not technically residing in Oregon at the moment, I still consider myself an Oregon resident. I lived there for the better part of 37 years, I work there, I pay taxes there, I buy my liquor and gasoline and food there, and I’m actively seeking to undo the mistake that was my temporary residence in Washington. So even though I can’t vote, I do feel I have a vested interest in Oregon’s U.S. Senatorial race, especially since the odds are better than not that I’ll be casting my vote there come the general election.
I was living in Oregon and twice had the chance to vote against our wretched fraud of a Republican Senator Gordon Smith. After years carrying the Bush water, Smith has reinvented himself as a conciliator, a man of reason, an ardent opponent of the war. I suppose it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that he could have had a turn of conscience and want to make amends for the rotten things he did in the name of his erstwhile ideology. Lord knows that old firebrands like George Wallace and Barry Goldwater discovered an enhanced humanity in their later years that wasn’t present when they were frothing young middle-aged turks leading the torch-and-pitchfork brigade that wanted to be led to a new and snarling promised land, all nuclear all-the-time and as Negro-free as allowed by law.
Not so much here, though. Gordo’s up for re-election, and he’s scared. He probably should be, because in an ongoing SurveyUSA poll on United States Senators, his disapproval ratings are frequently in the 40-43% range, which is in the neighborhood of blessedly-slain douche-fountains like Conrad Burns, Bill Frist, and Rick Santorum. He’s trying to avoid the same ignominious fate as his former Senatorial bretheren and has initiated an extreme makeover and is applying more and more makeup and Botox as the election draws nigh. In fact, he’s not even waiting for the election, using the primary season to lambaste his opponent even before he knows who it will be.
He rolled out the new Gordo today on the eve of Oregon’s primary announcing his emergence from his winter coccoon as “moderate, independent, bipartisan.” He’s not crowing about any of his pre-2007 votes, however–such as his yes votes on a Constitutional ban on flag desecration, yes on a Constitutional ban against same-sex marriages, yes on wiretapping, yes on restricting the right of habeus corpus, yes on Samuel Alito, yes on John Roberts, yes on restricting rules on personal bankruptcy, no on repealing a tax subsidy for companies who moved U.S. jobs overseas, and a steady drumbeat of “no,” “no,” and “no” on any education bill that didn’t involve vouchers or charter schools, not to mention his 83% approval rating by the Christian Coalition.
There are legitimate challengers looking to untie the Gordonian knot and their throwdown is coming to a culmination tonight. Jeff Merkley is the Oregon Speaker of the House and the anointed favorite of still-in-his-probationary period Senatorial kingmaker, Charles Schumer. Merkley is a reliable progressive, but he’s the establishment’s progressive. Steve Novick, however, is more of a wildcard, and would certainly be a hell of a lot more fun to watch in the general election. Novick is 4’9”, was born without a left hand, and wears a prosthetic hook. He enrolled in college after his junior high school closed due to budget cuts and graduated the University of Oregon at the age of 18, moving onto Harvard Law School to graduate at the age of 21. He was lead counsel on the Love Canal trial and secured a $129 million settlement for the plaintiffs. He’s been active in Oregon politics but has never held elective office.
He doesn’t have a lot of patience for Dems whom he feels have betrayed the tribe and aren’t playing the progressive card aggressively enough. Oregon political analyst Jeff Mapes says “Novick is a loose cannon given to slashing attacks against Democrats with whom he disagrees,” while The Oregonian’s David Sarasohn observes, “if the best chance to unseat Smith belongs to the candidate most capable of biting large chunks out of him, the edge probably (goes) to Novick.”
Well, not that I have a vote, but I already know where I’d place it. In lieu of exercising my will at the ballot box, I’m at least going to show solidarity by attending his post-election party tonight at Portland’s Benson Hotel. My co-worker is a refugee from the state and local political wars before he hung up his husting hooves for the less personally-vicious milieu of a tech job.
The Benson was abuzz when we arrived about 9:20 PM, eighty minutes after the polls closed in Oregon. There should have been a big helping of numbers served up for Oregon early, as the state is all mail-in voting, and as of this morning 38% of the ballots of all registered voters were in already. We came into the lobby, but there was no big-screen TV with election results anywhere in sight. Bad form for a post-election party, and I don’t care how august the Benson prides itself on being.
We passed the main-floor meeting room off the reception area, where State Senator Kate Brown declared an early victory over two strong candidates, and is now moving on to clobber flaccid Republican nominee Rick Dancer.
There were no Novick returns coming yet, which is always a bad sign, as the leftie melting pot lined up for overpriced drinks and bobbed their heads to “1999” as they waited for the candidate to arrive. There was a vague air of deflated expectations in the room. We headed for another rally to see what might be going on there.
My co-worker introduced himself to the fiance of a Democratic candidate for Jeff Merkley’s House District 47 seat. He managed to insult her and elicit a “fuck you!” within 45 seconds, so I was sure they must have been old friends, but I learned later that they had indeed just met 45 seconds before her Dick Cheney Hello. That said, she was a great sport for accepting from a total stranger a scathing pejorative about how adversely she’s weathered her thirty or so years. I realized that was just Neil being charming. Neil is in his 40s and single. Then again, so am I, and he’s gotten action more recently than I have, so maybe this could have been a teachable moment for me.
She was a devout Hillary supporter and was engaging with Neil on how fascinated she was that she was meeting so few Hillary supporters who weren’t women over 50. I offered a few comments but didn’t weigh in heavily on what I thought about Hillary’s campaign this year, and how far she’s fallen from the woman I was putting my Lincoln on this past winter. I didn’t have my surly on this evening, and why sully a nice scotch and beer buzz?
Former Governor John Kitzhaber came in and the natives started to stir in the Novick room. I followed the cacophony and found Kitzhaber introducing Steve Novick. And then, just like that…concession.
“We thought we could stick it to the man, but just like so many other times, the man stuck it to us.” All in all it was a gracious and conciliatory address, and he spent the next many minutes thanking everyone but six donors whose names he couldn’t read and the custodian who cleaned up after his rally in Roseburg in March.
It was a little dispiriting. Who’s going to help us pummel Gordo now? I guess it’s up to Speaker Merkley, and Steve Novick was gracious in defeat and sincere in his urgings for his supporters to get behind Merkley to take down Gordo, though it’s going to be no small feat, as Merkley is, as Novick would have been, after their primary fight, entering the race broke.
We clearly picked the wrong party. For anyone not familiar with Oregon politics, Kevin Mannix is our troglodyte Harold Stassen. He shows up every two years with a flamethrower, a rucksack full of grenades, and, when he starts flagging in the polls, one of his well-heeled Uber-Christian benefactors ready to fly in with the napalm strike on his opponent, even if it means the immolation of his own village. He’s a law-and-order and fiscal responsibility conservative with a glaring financial management problem of his own, who made his bones early putting incendiary measures on the state ballot.
Fortunately for Oregon, he keeps losing at the statewide level. He’s lost twice for Attorney General and twice for Governor, and threw his hat in the ring once again for the Republican nomination for the open 5th Congressional District seat of retiring Democrat Darlene Hooley, against entrepreneur and perennial failed officerunner, Mike Erickson.
One poll leading up to the election showed Mannix trailing Erickson 52 to 44, so he called in an air strike, just days before the election mailing out a flier divulging that his fellow pro-lifer Erickson paid for an abortion for a woman he dated in 2000.
A tawdry attack, for sure, and perfectly in keeping with Mannix’s reputation, but if it was true he was hoisting Erickson by his own petard. The “no comment” from the Erickson campaign for the first few days of the story was telling, but they broke the silence on Thursday came their admission that Erickson had indeed dated said woman for a few months lo those many years ago, and had recalled loaning her some money “to help her with financial problems she was having” but that was the extent of it. This already wasn’t passing the smell test, and they came back the next day and added that, yes, he did remember giving her a ride to, um, a…clinic–but insisted that she never mentioned a pregnancy.
Tuesday morning it was announced an election-eve poll showed a 23-point shift to Mannix among pro-lifers and a 20-point shift among senior citizens. It looked like a sure but unfortunate beatdown on Erickson by Mannix, so we seriously considered the maudlin Erickson post-election party but decided on the Novick party instead.
Unfortunately, in a mail-in state like Oregon, last minute bombing raids aren’t always as effective as they are in ballot-box states. Despite our predictions and those of the local pundits–including Willamette Week which announced Erickson as a loser as they went to press on Tuesday night–it was the Mannix party that wounded up being the downer ball of the evening, as Erickson prevailed by three points. Oh well. On the upside, we almost certainly won’t have Kevin Mannix to kick around anymore.
THE OTHER GUY: Not too many surprises tonight. She gave him a horse-stomp like Big Brown in Kentucky, and he won by a less-impressive 16 points in Oregon. He split the vote of white women and non-college white voters. With both states, 83% of Obama’s votes today came from white voters. More ruminating and chin-scratching on the national candidates from both state contests tomorrow.