With U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., conceding the loss of his seat Thursday, Nov. 6, the Republican Party in Oregon for the first time since statehood will have no statewide elected officer when all the votes are tallied and certified.
For a state that stayed Republican through the Great Depression, the New Deal, and World War II, and was often linked with Maine as coastal outposts of Republicanism, the situation is historic.
In Washington, more reliably Democratic when Oregon stayed with the GOP, even running away from the tarnished Republican label didn't help Dino Rossi ("prefers the G.O.P. Party") avoid a stunning loss in a governor's race that his national party had hoped to win. Republicans are down in Washington, but not out, and how the party rebuilds will likely determine its near-term future.
Alaska and Idaho remain safely Republican, with Alaskans defying conventional wisdom and continuing to vote for the scandal-racked Sen. Ted Stevens and Rep. Don Young, the former convicted of seven felonies and the latter under investigation on a host of campaign-related charges. Idaho elected a Democrat to Congress from its northern district, where Democrat Walt Minnick ousted Republican U.S. Rep. Bill Sali, but Republicans remain firmly in control of other major offices in that state.
In-migration is the major hope of Democrats in both Idaho and Alaska, and new voters were a factor in Minnick's victory. Alaska is a case unto itself; Democrats had very attractive candidates against Stevens and Young, but loyalty to those who delivered congressional pork for decades booted them home. If Stevens prevails in the final vote count, he will return to a Senate that could expel him unless a court voids his convictions. If that happens, Alaska must have a special election — the governor cannot appoint a successor as in most states — and Gov. Sarah Palin is a likely candidate to hold the seat for the GOP.
Alaska and Idaho have a strong Republican bench to keep the party in the game, but the bench is empty in Oregon and depleted in Washington.
In both states, the question is whether Republicans will attempt to guide back to the moderate politics of icons such as Dan Evans and John Spellman in Washington and Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield in Oregon, or turn sharply to the right as they did in several unsuccessful elections in the past two decades.
There's that election map again. It shows all sorts of red counties in the eastern and southern parts of both states, but not since the Supreme Court ordered one-man, one-vote laws in the 1960s has geography been able to trump population.
This is even more pronounced in Oregon than in Washington. Only three of the state's 10 largest cities (Salem, Medford, and Bend), are in counties carried by Smith. Portland has 15 percent of the state's population, and its penchant for the green and liberal exceeds that of Seattle. Some 70 percent of Oregonians live in cities, according to the Population Research Center at Portland State University, and most of the state's growth is in urban areas, particularly those surrounding Portland.
Oregon Republicans twice in the past two decades shot themselves in the foot, giving just enough votes to third-party conservatives to defeat moderate Republicans in the McCall-Hatfield mold, and the field of electable Republican moderates has been narrowed as a result. This year, a Constitution Party spoiler, David Brownlow, picked up 5 percent of the vote, arguably costing Smith his Senate seat. In 1990, third-party conservative Al Mobley helped elect a liberal Democrat, Barbara Roberts, as governor, over Attorney General David Frohnmayer, one of the best of the moderate Republicans. The party subsequently moved to the right, nominating cultural conservatives and losing badly for offices at all levels in recent years.
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