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When candidates are smart

In the 1938 Oregon primary, it was incumbent Gov. Charles Sprague, intellectual, vs. Secretary of State Earl Snell, car dealer. Guess who won.

Watching the debates between Gov. Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi, I was reminded of a memo I turned up several years ago in researching the biography of Charles A. Sprague, governor of Oregon, distinguished editor and publisher and alternate delegate to the United Nations.

Sprague was an intellectual, a progressive Republican elected in 1938, who governed in the shadows of the impending worldwide war, and with little fanfare despite his knowledge of the news business. In 1942, he faced in the Republican primary Secretary of State Earl Snell, a former car dealer who sent birthday cards to thousands of constituents from his Capitol office.

Campaigners for the governor were frustrated by his inability to connect with voters, in sharp contrast to the glad-handing Snell. One of Sprague's more candid campaign aides summed it up:

This criticism comes from a discussion in which the remark was made that in his public addresses the governor had rarely if ever failed to make a sound contribution to the thinking of the group addressed. The comment was, "That is true, but a lot of people are beginning to wonder how anyone can be so well informed. He just knows too much."

Snell sold cars, Rossi sold real estate. Gregoire, like Sprague, is a policy wonk.

Oh yes, Snell won.

Floyd J. McKay, professor of journalism emeritus at Western Washington University, was a print and broadcast journalist in Oregon for three decades. Recipient of a DuPont-Columbia Broadcast Award for documentaries, and a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, he is also a historian and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington. He resides in Bellingham and can be reached at floydmckay@comcast.net.


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