The Dorchester Conference for Republicans produced its quadrennial poll for the gubernatorial primary. Ron Saxton finished with 42%, Jason Atkinson with 39% and Kevin Mannix with 17%. All of the political camps are busy putting their particular spins on the outcome but there are a few things to remember before the primaries really heat up.
First, the Dorchester Poll is not scientific. It represents the views of some party activists and candidate supporters. It is more a testament to organizational skills and message delivery during the debates than anything else. The fact that Mannix finished last reflects less on his popularity than it does on his campaign staff’s failure to prepare for Dorchester. Likewise the statewide polls taken to date, while scientific, represent little more than name recognition. The fact that Mannix routinely finishes first in those polls reflect less on his popularity than it does on the fact that he has been constantly in the press as the head of the Republican Party. The contest starts now and leadership will be the issue.
Second, let’s remember the Eleventh Commandment of the Republican Party – do not speak ill of your opponents. And it goes for the whole bunch of you and your supporters. Every penny ante, snide, lower-than-whale-poop comment you make about each other is going to be picked up by the Democrats and used in the general election. Try to sell yourself instead of thinking you can make yourself look good by making others look worse. So, knock off the rhetoric that Mannix is “damaged goods” and a “two-time loser.” This is a new election and even though Gov. Kulongoski is the opponent again, it is a different set of circumstances – principally Kulongoski’s poor performance in his first term and his absence on virtually every critical issue.
And knock off the baloney about Saxton being a “Goldschmidt clone”, he isn’t now and never has been. If Mannix continues that tack and then tries it out on Kulongoski, he may find that Kulongoski runs on the theme that he’s not Kevin Mannix. Leave the politics of personal destruction to the Democrats – their masters at it.
And finally, knock off the whispering campaign that Jason Atkinson it too young, or that he is just trying to position himself to be Secretary of State. Jason is old enough and smart enough to know that successful politicians develop a short list of “do-able” initiatives and pound away on them.
Third, it’s time for the real campaign and the candidates are either going to have to introduce the next phase of their campaigns or, in some instances, revamp their campaigns from head to foot. And let’s debunk some of the popular myths that the candidates and their supporters have tried to portray.
Kevin Mannix is not the “presumptive winner.” He certainly has greater name recognition than his opponents and deservedly so for his work as chairman of the party. But Kevin is in for a horse race and he is going to have to elevate his game and engage in the politics of ideas to demonstrate leadership.
Ron Saxton is not a RINO. He is a fiscal conservative who embraces the concepts of free enterprise and competition and will apply them to government. Those who think that he is the candidate of the Portland business crowd or the West Hills Republicans, better check his campaign reports. As usual those groups are hedging their bets in favor of Kulongoski. But even though he is a fiscal conservative, he still has work to do to ease the comfort level with social conservatives.
And Jason Atkinson is not just another pretty face with low body fat. Yes, he has a standing heart rate that is lower than the age of either of his opponents. He and Saxton are probably equally skilled with a fly rod but that’s his hobby, not his passion. He is a pure conservative. His first response to virtually any political question reflects a view of limited government and accountability for what level of government is appropriate. But he will have to continue to work to demonstrate gravitas – a task made easier by his performance at Dorchester.
The upcoming debates between Saxton and Atkinson are going to be fascinating, Mannix is going to have to race to catch up – but he can. And that’s okay. The Republicans can win this year by being the party of ideas and responsibility, just like they have done on the national level. So knock off the cheap shots and get on with the issues.