Thursday, August 10, 2006

BREAKING: Westlund Drops Out--to Save State?

Courtesy of Jeff Mapes on The O's political blog:
Spokesman John Turner refused to comment on reports that the state senator from Bend would end his candidacy.

"I can't say," Turner said. "I know that we have an important campaign announcement to make."

Clearly, something major was up. Key Westlund supporters were told in advance to be on alert for his announcement, and there were reports that he had stopped fund-raising. The news was also circulating among Democratic political circles.

More news as we get it--I'm working the virtual phones, so to speak...

Update, 115pm--
OK, after a little legwork I'm hearing some scuttle. First of all, the presumption appears to be that Westlund is indeed planning to announce his withdrawal this afternoon. I say that because in discussions about what it could be, those I've talked to discussed it in terms of WHY he's dropping out, and not WHETHER. I found no one who would flat out confirm that's the case, but what I heard was less speculation about external events (polls, signatures) and more about internal issue--ie, why Ben feels it's time to give up the ghost.

Essentially, what was floated to me was that Westlund fears what pundits have been saying in general since he announced his intentions--his candidacy imperils Kulongoski's chances for re-election. After looking long and hard at the race, he's decided that if Ted loses, the issues important to Ben personally will be DOA in a Saxton goobernorship. So as a "true progressive," for the good of Oregon he is bowing out.

How shall I put this? I think that's a load--a cover explanation for more pragmatic reasons, like not enough money, not enough signatures, or not enough favorable polling. For this theory to be true, Westlund would have entered the race believing a) he never had a shot at winning, and b) his candidacy wouldn't hurt Ted. First of all, the idea that someone would commit themselves to the rigors of an insurgent campaign--sleeping in motels, hanging out in diners and VFW halls, begging for money over the phone--without any belief they'd win, just to get a four or five month platform to push one's one pet issues, strains credulity.

Secondly, if Ben knew from the jump that his "non-partisan progressive" candidacy would hurt Ted, then his subsequent sense of political altruism makes no sense. If you were worried about spoiling the race rightward, why even get in? The only way the theory is plausible is if he started out believing he wouldn't hurt Ted, and then came to believe it as polling developed. Again, I don't see it. None of the polling to date gives any clear indication one way or the other. As I've noted before, if you look at the scant polling done, either Westlund is not included at all, or a 3-way results in Ted losing more points than Saxton...but not necessarily to Ben (rather to "don't know" or some other candidate). It's certainly possible that his internal polling is more detailed on the subject and shows significant Ted bleed if Ben is in the race. If you bought the early hype that Ben spoils Ted, that hype has been around since before he got in. If you don't buy the hype (as I don't), then there's no reason to get out, is there?

Unless...your polling shows that you're not peeling sufficient votes from ANYONE, be it Ted, Ron, or whomever. Or you've tapped everyone you could find for money, and you're still way behind the big boys. Or you've turned in your signatures to the counties, and they are coming back worse than you anticipated. Once they said they'd gotten 40,000 sigs I was willing to agree that they should have enough, but as I've said all along, no one's tried to get on the ballot under the new, more restrictive rules for who's eligible to sign. It's always been a wild card as to what his rejection rate might be.

We're due to find out the overt facts in about a half-hour: is Ben dropping out? But if he is, and you start hearing noise about "I'm doing this for the good of Oregon," grab the salt shaker. Maybe it's the times we live in, but nobody is that altruistic.

Update, 155pm--
Gay Rights Watch is claiming they've confirmed he is in fact dropping out, and endorsing Kulongoski.

Update, 230pm--
Mapes and Walsh have the early quotes:
"At the beginning of this campaign, I made a commitment to the people of Oregon that I was in it to win it and that I absolutely would not play a spoiler role," Westlund said at a news conference in Salem.

"Therefore today, with no regrets but some sadness I am here to honor that commitment. I am proud to keep that promise to the people of Oregon--despite the fact I unquestionably could qualify for the ballot--by announcing my withdrawal from the race for governor."
He did not say why he concluded he could not win the race as an independent. But if said "if you look at the political landscape, you see the path to victory has narrowed.
Yeah, OK. That's not "I'm protecting you all from Saxton," more like "I realized it ain't gonna happen for me, and so did everyone else who would give me money."

Here's KGW's take, which includes the fact that he didn't endorse anyone at the presser, and that he claims his health is fine (so rule that out as a hidden reason).

Update 430p--

Blue Oregon has Goobernor Kulongoski's statement in response, and links to a transcript of Ben's withdrawal speech this afternoon. As for reasons why, we've now heard from multiple sources it was all about money--not enough of it. Westlund opened too many offices around the state, had too much paid media, and paid too many staffers too well this early in the campaign. For all his efforts early on, he was still struggling with about 10% name recognition. Without a major party funding source, he was going to have to dig into his own pocket...and you can see how that'd motivate you to rethink your candidacy. The early meme is "Ben, how noble of you," but I think this is just run of the mill discovery on his part that he had no chance.