By Jacob Vandever
1/6/17: This article has been updated to reflect the most recent available voter registration numbers.
I am really excited for my debut article here on Oregon Catalyst. For those of you who don’t know me let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Jacob Vandever, I grew up in rural eastern Oregon, attended school at Oregon State University in Corvallis, and have been involved with Oregon conservative politics in one form or another my entire adult life. If I have one goal in life, it is to make Oregon conservatives a competitive force again. So to kick off my first Catalyst article, let’s take a look at what that will take.
Being a Republican in Oregon is not easy. All too often election night can be a depressing affair for those of us of a conservative persuasion. But when you dig into the voter registration numbers, Republican are surprisingly successful given the circumstances they face.
There are eight Republican officials in Oregon who hold seats in areas where the voter registration favors Democratic candidates. Comparatively if you tally up the number of Democratic officials who hold seats in areas where the voter registration leans Republican you get a big fat goose egg. That’s right, there is not a single Democrat elected to the Oregon legislature from an even remotely red seat.
Statewide we of course have Republican Secretary of State Dennis Richardson who was successful in his race despite the entire state having 10.36 percent more Democrats than Republicans.
In the Senate, Republicans Alan DeBoer (8.42% D), Alan Olsen (1.78% D), Jackie Winters (0.17% D) and Chuck Thomsen (6.86% D) all hold down seats that lean to the left.
In the House Julie Parrish (6.57% D), Knute Buehler (10.92% D), and Mark Johnson (4.98% D) were all just reelected to blue seats.
So Republicans win every seat that they should win as well as a handful of seats that they statistically shouldn’t. What does that mean for Conservatives in Oregon? It means that even though we are doing well considering our circumstances, we owe it to ourselves and our beliefs to do even better and transcend our circumstances.
Dennis Richardson’s victory was a great sign for conservative’s prospects in Oregon and there are many lessons we can learn from that win. Richardson, despite being outspent by almost 1 million dollars, was still able to defeat Brad Avakian by around 80,000 votes. This is 67 year old, socially conservative Republican Dennis Richardson we are talking about here.
From this point forward, any seat that Oregon Republicans pick up is a seat taken from enemy territory. So that means running high quality candidates that have deep ties to their communities and can attract some of the Democrats and Independents in their district. A lot of people will say that means nominating more moderate candidates, but I think it means nominating candidates that fit their districts. In some cases that could mean folks who are more moderate, but it doesn’t have to be necessarily true.
If we look at the places where Republicans have won in blue areas, they are races where the Republican candidate has a unique brand that is sometimes bigger than the party’s brand. Buehler and Parrish both have reputations for independence, Deboer had a strong image as a local mayor, and Richardson developed an esteem for integrity and transparency.
We have to be smart, work twice as hard, and show that we are ready to govern. Thankfully we have an overconfident and comfortable Democratic establishment that we should be ready to take full advantage of.
Also a big voter registration push definitely wouldn’t hurt. There are some districts up in Portland where you are more likely to be left handed than a Republican.
Jacob Vandever is the editor of Oregon Upstart, the newest conservative blog on the Oregon political scene.