This is a collection of different authors and input from campaign workers to critics to help give constructive criticism and a detailed analysis of the Chris Dudley-John Kitzhaber race. This report looks at what worked and what did not work. Please save this article in your computer and use it as a critical tool to help future candidates run for office.
It must be stated upfront that the Dudley-Kitzhaber race was the closest Governors’ race in 50 years. Chris Dudley brought new people, new donors and new face to the Republican party and left the party in a stronger position than when he entered. This leaves a good record of success stories and important mistakes that made up the campaign from which to learn from.
2 Positive Elements
3. Negative Elements
PERSPECTIVE: Understanding the playing field
Any analysis of the race must start with the foundation of analyzing voter registration. In Oregon, Democrats hold a 200,000 voter edge over Republicans. With 9 out of 10 voters still voting party line this is still significant. Do not be deceived or discouraged by the 200,000 number because this voter registration is more erratic than you think. As recent as 2006, the standing Democrat to Republican voter difference was less than 63,000 votes. The current 200,000 advantage is a holdover from the unusually high Obama bump of 2008 and could vanish as easily as it was created depending on national events and what happens in Oregon.
The 2010 national Republican wave did hit a rock jetty at the West Coast. Despite a historic 60 seat swing the states of California, Oregon and Washington only witnessed a single GOP pick-up (Jamie Herrera in Washington). Oregon does have a higher percentage liberal base than the national average but those who identify themselves to pollsters as conservative still outnumber liberals by 10%. Complicating matters is the fact that Oregon has an extremely high Independent/unaffiliated voter registration. Even within Oregon Democrat and Republican voters there is a more independent demographic. The lesson for future candidates is that national issues and moods are less driving factors than in other states. For instance, Oregonians were more likely to tell pollsters that things were on the right track compared to the average national voter (fascinating for a state that is among the tops in unemployment).
No liberal third party:
On the ballot there were Libertarian and Constitution Party governor candidates that took some votes from Dudley yet there was no Progressive Party, Pacific Green Party or Working Family Party to take away Kitzhaber votes.
Traditionally, minority voters see a depressed turn-out in mid-term elections. The surprising exception to this rule has been Hispanic voters who voted in this election at same rates as 2010. Hispanics favored Democrats 64% to 40% Republican. But this trend was even stronger in the Western states of Oregon, California and Nevada. Many experts see the Hispanic vote as the key factor in the Nevada Senator Harry Reid victory and the 10% victory of Jerry Brown. In Oregon, Dudley trailed the minority vote by 42% to Kitzhaber’s 57%. Failure to ignore this obvious voter trend will kill future candidates who want to run for statewide office. This does not mean candidates need to embrace stereotypes or to jump head first into the immigration debate. Instead, candidates need to ask “What is your strategy to reach Hispanics?”. Do you plan to highlight areas where there are shared values? Are you willing to advertise in areas where Hispanics can actually hear the message? It was not visible that either Kitzhaber or Dudley did outreach to the Hispanic voter, but post election results scream its importance.
Get out the vote:
Democrats were able to get out more direct mail reminders, phone calls and personal door visits for voter turn-out than Republican efforts.
The team has many great successes. As Moore information showed that polls revealed that Dudley outperformed Kitzhaber on who best improve the economy (+3%), improve schools (+3%) and to cut state spending (+24%). The Dudley television ads were all convincing, deft and skillful. The decision to launch ads within days of winning the May Primary garnered great attention and helped set dynamic energy in the campaign. For every Kitzhaber attacks the campaign had speedy responses. The televised debate was a source of anxiety for many political watchers, but Dudley came prepared and performed well. Dudley’s 20 point plan and other plans were substantive and numerous. The fundraising machine was impressive with Dudley raising a record breaking $9 million and outpaced Kitzhaber’s $6 million. You don’t break fundraising records or out-poll the experienced rival without a great candidate and campaign team.
The campaign slogan “Join Oregon’s Comeback” was the most original in a decade. Far better than the tired and overused “take back” Oregon. Furthermore, with 3rd Century Solution’s Oregon Transformation Project, and Kevin Mannix’s Rejuvenation Project, the social conservative’s Restore Oregon conferences and the Yamhill County GOP’s Economic Revival meetings, Oregon conservatives were in serious danger of running out of adjectives — until Dudley came along.
Candidate Mistake free:
Dudley did nothing wrong nor said anything wrong. No scandals, no criminal record, no lawsuits or egregious gaffes on the campaign trail that. Dudley turned out to be the sincere and honest soul that the campaign described him as.
Kudos to Kitzhaber:
Before we blame each other for the losses we shouldn’t be so short-sided as to miss that the Kitzhaber team ran a well executed campaign. The candidate is an excellent public speaker and doesn’t make that many mistakes in public.
The polling firm, Riley Research, was one of the rare polling firms that showed Chris Dudley behind when national polls were showing a lead. Local pollsters have a strategy that is tailored better to Oregon and can sometimes produce more accurate results. Future candidates, please consider a local firm like Riley Research or Moore Information.
Chris Dudley is a great communicator – when in private. In larger public settings he was always enthusiastic but never perfect as other statewide candidates from either party have been. You could tell that he always put his entire heart into it but it came across as forced. Communication is why Allen Alley beat Dudley in both the Dorchester debate poll and in the KGW-TV Primary debate straw poll which provided a good barometer on how people rate their speaking abilities (as opposed to how they would vote).
Experience qualifications gap:
Moore information polling showed that Dudley could not breach the experience gap. It is not just that Dudley had no experience, it is that he had no experience against a man who held the office twice. A Moore Information poll showed that this was an 11% penalty for Dudley. The experience issue became so hot that some people chastise the consultants for recruiting Dudley in the first place. In fact, it was Dudley who worked on the idea for years and recruited his team once he decided he was going to run. When Dudley entered the race there was no one in the race but Alley who came with no elected experience (although much excellent political experience). From this vantage point deciding to run carried risk due to the experience issue but was justified by the playing field. Future candidates need to realize that a risk is a risk when aiming for the top seat first.
Dudley had the right answers to the policy questions (give the campaign a round of applause). This issue became more tricky when people wanted more detail to common questions. This may not be an issue for the public, but for editorial boards it was a pressing and critical issue. Editorial boards pounced on this and it reflected in their numerous Kitzhaber endorsements and their overly negative words on Dudley. When the Register Guard stated that Oregon shouldn’t take a” gamble” with Dudley, it became potent weapon for the Kitzhaber campaign. Future candidates need to know that previous political experience doesn’t just give a candidate knowledge, It gives the candidate time to understand the spirit and nature behind issues and problems. This is why a well experienced candidate can talk about issues she has no knowledge of because she understands firsthand the nature similar problems and can cross reference. When it comes to star power driven candidates both Jesse Ventura and Sonny Bono did serve as mayor before running for higher office. Ronald Reagan spent at least 12 years, Jack Kemp 10, and Bill Brady spent 4 years in public political activism and involvement before making their first run for office.
Through TV ads and direct mail the Kitzhaber tagged Dudley to direct issues saying he would tinker with minimum wage and would cut schools by cutting taxes. Both statements are not necessarily effective but since Dudley did not return the favor by specifically mentioning what Kitzhaber would do, these messages became more important. The Dudley campaign was successful at broadcasting the horrible things that happened during the Kitzhaber era but lacked the final personal connection of things Kitzhaber personally did. If the campaign were to mention how Kitzhaber signed into law various government waste examples or taxes then you are more closely tying the problem to the candidate with specific examples. It is not enough to say that the economy suffered under a candidate – explain what votes caused the problem. Upon surveying undecided voters who voted for Kitzhaber these voters communicated that they liked Dudley but could not mention a specific example of what he would do. Neither could they cite what Kitzhaber would specifically do! So the matter always fell towards experience which favored Kitzhaber. The campaign did discuss what Dudley would do but never strong enough to carry over.
Out-of-State Consultant Curse:
The overuse of out of state consultants and staff was a serious handicap for the campaign. It was an inside joke that when you visited the campaign headquarters you entered a sprawling oversized building filled with a dozen people you have never seen before and you knew you would never see them again (because they leave the state after the election).
At first impression they were always friendly but after that they were cold, indifferent and became famous for never returning phone calls. When one county Republican Party needed Dudley material for a 7,000 door drop effort the campaign wouldn’t give an answer, then wouldn’t return phone calls and then said no. Another well-known person offered to put up 20 large sign locations on high traffic areas, but the campaign ignored those calls before saying they were not going to do large lawn signs (which was sad because the person was willing to put up his own money to make it happen!). A businessman wanted bumper stickers to put on a fleet of cars and he was told that the campaign wasn’t doing bumper stickers. Social media was unimportant to the campaign as local bloggers were unable to convince the campaign to add them to their media list. Event organizers couldn’t get people from the campaign to show-up at their events where campaign material could be showcased. Conservative writers who wanted help in finding out more negative information on Kitzhaber were told that the campaign wouldn’t help in any way. Those who set up their own anti-Kitzhaber websites and do their own anti-Kitzhaber efforts were frowned upon by the campaign. Scores of people who wanted to help were made to feel useless, stupid and a waste of the campaign’s time. As a result, the campaign easily shut out an entire army of volunteers. These volunteers represent a genuine Get-Out-the-Vote drive the very drive that Republicans are always complaining about never exists.
Oregon Republican percentage turnout was only 5% higher than Democrats which was less than the national average. Volunteer phone banking was significantly down (for a mid-year election) in the large counties in the Metro area where voter returns are critical. One partial reason for this depressed voter mobilization might have been the detachment volunteers had with the campaign. If there is no volunteerism, door walking, bumper stickers, large lawn signs, and social media then what is the campaign all about? If the only way ordinary people can help is to send money for TV ads then you are squelching the organic energy that feeds and motivates voters and volunteers. It must be said that many activities listed above that were ignored were later picked up by the campaign, but it was too late as the doors had already been slammed in volunteer’s faces. In large campaigns, there can often be a struggle between consultants (brain power) and grassroots (street power). A good campaign has good diversity and representation of both sides.