Monday, November 20, 2006

R-Guard Nails OR GOP's Past; Botches Dems' Future

Today's editorial in the Register-Guard engages in some more electoral post-mortem, and finds the outlook for Republicans in Oregon to be rather bleak:
The governor's race revealed the magnitude of the Republicans' problem. This was supposed to be the GOP's year of opportunity. Kulongoski's core supporters in the labor movement deserted him in the primary. In Ron Saxton the Republicans had a candidate who seemed more likely to appeal to independent voters than such previous nominees as Kevin Mannix, Bill Sizemore and Denny Smith. Saxton had a political base in Portland and raised a record amount of campaign funds.

But Kulongoski won by a bigger margin than in 2002. Kulongoski beat Saxton in only 12 of Oregon's 36 counties - but among them are the top five in population, including Lane. Kulongoski won in only six counties four years ago, with nearly all of his margin of victory coming from Multnomah County. The governor added Washington, Clackamas and Marion counties to his column, which are the state's second, third and fifth most populous.
No argument there. And later on in the piece, the editors correctly note that recently the reach of Oregon Democrats has moved beyond high-density urban areas, penetrating into suburbs, exurbs, and even the fringes beyond that.

Which makes the very next paragraph somewhat odd:
Single-party control will give the Democrats a chance to advance their agenda - but as has been shown at the national level, it can also lead to arrogance and over-reaching. In particular, these election results threaten to deepen Oregon's geographical divide. Rural areas, the Republicans' only solid base in Oregon, may have trouble being heard in Salem. The Democrats will control the entire government, and they will have to take responsibility for governing the entire state, not just those portions that elected them.
Was this team-written, with one editor writing the conclusion after the original author fell asleep on deadline? How can you assert in one paragraph that Democrats are broadening their appeal outside of the biggest cities--and then turn around and claim that those results will "deepen Oregon's geographical divide?"

I might accept that a cultural divide may deepen to some extent, with those on the east of the Cascades feeling even more marginalized in their concerns relative to the wet side of the duck's back. But talking about urban/rural as if they are the linchpins of electoral math, after the paradigm-busting elections we just had, seems silly. Sure, Democrats cruised in the major Washington County suburbs around Beaverton, Tigard, Tualatin and King City, and out towards Hillsboro.

But are Cornelius and Forest Grove--and points west--really suburbs of Portland? Certainly the vast expanse in western Washington and eastern Tillamook Counties that makes up the 32nd District doesn't qualify as anything but rural, yet Debbie Boone got 62% of the vote. Further north in the 31st, which has some Portland-edge cities like Scappoose and St. Helens but then features a whole lot of not-much until Astoria, you can't tell me those folks think and act like people in the Pearl...but Brad Witt got 59% there. How about the 11th HD, whose biggest towns are probably Brownsville (ca. 1,500) and Coburg (ca. 1,000)? You can guess--Phil Barnhart, re-elected with 62% of the vote.

So this isn't about rural/urban anymore as much as it is east and west. And as I said, that's cultural, not demographic. Which means that there's no reason why Democratic candidates and ideals can't play in the rightward half of the state; it simply means they must play correctly. To that end, the warning from the R-G that Democrats must show that they wish to govern the entire state is a good one--but it's not based on any inherent inability for them to appeal in rural areas. And as for suggesting that recent national history and current results should caution Dems about the arrogance of power, sure--but it was the Republicans in DC who perfected that profile so quickly. It took Democrats 40 years to get fat and sassy before 1994. So we can relax for at least 39 years and 50 weeks, right? :)