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Endangered species: Oregon Republicans

Election 2008.

Below the radar of the hard-fought presidential primary won by Sen. Barack Obama Tuesday night, May 20, and a nail-biter of a U.S. Senate primary race, Oregon Democrats have never been as dominant as they are in 2008. Nor have Republicans looked as pathetic.

Where did they go wrong?

Opportunity came knocking in the 2008 Oregon primary, but Republicans didn’t answer the door. For the first time in decades, all three statewide offices below governor are open, thanks to retirement or term limits; so is a congressional seat in the competitive 5th District.

Republican response: no candidate for attorney general, token candidates for secretary of state and treasurer, and for Congress a nasty campaign between two men vying to be the most anti-abortion in a state that traditionally backs abortion rights.

Wow! This is a state that as recently as the 1980s fielded such strong moderate Republicans as Sens. Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, controlled the governor’s office all but four years from 1958 until 1986, and nominated moderate Republicans for governor in 1986 and 1990.

But in the 1990s, Republicans increasingly aligned themselves with drastic property-tax initiatives and their sponsor, Bill Sizemore — actually nominating him for governor in 1996. They lost the opportunity provided by control of the Oregon House during much of the ’90s, failing to groom strong candidates for statewide office and producing little in the way of meaningful legislation. Democrats now control the Legislature, and the GOP has entered candidates in only 50 of 75 seats on the ballot.

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, the lone Republican produced by the legislative process who is still in statewide office, is the last of the Hatfield-Packwood-McCall image of progressive Republican, and he is under serious challenge this year. Republicans can really only count on Eastern Oregon’s 2nd District seat, held by Rep. Greg Walden.

For Oregon Republicans, what lies ahead is serious rebuilding. Think of the Mariners building a team from the West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx and Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

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