Oregon gubernatorial primary: retreads vs. newbies

Former Gov. John Kitzhaber is trying for an encore, against a more liberal Democrat. On the Republican side, charismatic Trailblazer star Charles Dudley is battling a more conservative, ho-hum businessman.
John Kitzhaber: back in the governor game

John Kitzhaber: back in the governor game U.S. Dept. of Transportation

It's not one of those television ads where the candidate strides forcefully into frame. In the case of Bill Bradbury, the longtime Democratic politician arrives on a two-wheel Segway and begins his message by trying to put aside the "non-issue issue" in his race for governor: Bradbury has multiple sclerosis and needs help to get around.

Bradbury assures audiences he's dealt with M.S. for years and it hasn't slowed him down; indeed, the former secretary of state retains his Happy Warrior smile and optimism in his approach to nailing down the left side of the Democratic primary for governor. He's hoping to defeat his old friend, former Gov. John Kitzhaber.

The Bradbury-Kitzhaber race is only one aspect of a May 18 primary that is much more interesting than most. The seat is open (Gov. Ted Kulongoski has served the allowable two terms), and Republicans are offered an interesting choice in their effort to regain an office they haven't held since 1986.

The party primaries are a contrast. Democrats will nominate either a former two-term governor who also served as Senate president, or a former two-term Secretary of State who also served as Senate president. Kitzhaber and Bradbury once represented adjacent Southwest Oregon legislative districts, worked and recreated together, and have maintained a generally civil campaign. In a year that is supposed to be anti-politician and pro-fresh face, the two leading Democrats have a combined 62 years of elective office. The leading Republicans: zero.

Republicans will decide between two interesting candidates who have never held any elected office (and are proud of it) and who live in the same wealthy Republican-dominant Portland suburb. Allen Alley, a former high-tech entrepreneur who ran a strong race for state treasurer in 2008, faces a challenge from Chris Dudley, a 16-year professional basketball player who finished his career with the Portland Trailblazers and has done a lot of charitable work. Dudley is rare among professional athletes: Not only is he a graduate of Yale University but he has had diabetes since childhood.

Alley clearly has the stronger resume for the job: He was Kulongoski's deputy chief of staff for two years and he's run statewide. He has strong business chops and bases his campaign on that background. But he lacks charisma and some Republicans fear he would be overshadowed in a fall race against either of the veteran Democrats.

Dudley clearly has the "charisma" edge; the 6-11 former center is viewed as a bit of a celebrity, although his approach is low-key and his personal life quite ordinary. He admits to seldom voting in Oregon elections, but claims his foundation work for children with diabetes and his post-Trailblazer career as a financial adviser give him management and business experience.

Both Dudley and Alley live in expensive homes in Lake Oswego, a traditional GOP stronghold and source of campaign cash. Dudley grew up in a prominent family, graduated in economics from Yale, and spent most of his adult life among multi-millionaire athletes. Alley has a more middle-class upbringing but his entrepreneurial career also brought him into close contact with upper-income people and made him wealthy. He worked to contact ordinary voters by walking some 400 miles across Oregon to mix with the folks.

Dudley has the edge in fundraising, including considerable out-of-state money, and has picked up endorsements from most of the state's Republican office-holders, despite vague positions on major issues. He picked up the endorsement of The Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper, which noted, "Yes, it is a leap of faith to nominate for governor a candidate with no political experience. But if there was ever a time to break from the past and from political convention, it is now."

Bradbury is clearly to the left of Kitzhaber, who is positioning himself as a centrist on most issues and looking toward a general election in which independents will likely decide the outcome. Oregon's primary is closed: Independents cannot vote, and voters must register in one party

The state's major downstate paper, the Eugene Register-Guard, was less impressed and endorsed Alley. Regarding Dudley, the R-G commented, "But in debate and in conversation, it becomes clear that his prescription for Oregon is a less detailed version of Alley's. Dudley sees Oregon suffering from the same afflictions Alley has identified — economic anemia, governmental bloat, deteriorating social conditions, and a hostile business climate. He offers many of the same solutions — zero-based budgeting, pension reform, and improved tax and regulatory system. The parallels between the two candidates' positions make it plain that Alley has a superior grasp of detail, and a correspondingly better chance of successfully implementing his agenda."


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Comments:

Posted Mon, May 10, 4:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the update. I grew up in Portland, but haven't lived in Oregon since 2000. My vote would be with Kitzhaber--I liked him back when he was governor--but I haven't been following closely enough to really say.

I was thinking about James Donaldson's mayoral bid last year in Seattle. Donaldson ran into the problem that, while on the campaign trail, it became fairly evident that he did not have a strong command of the issues. Dudley seems to be doing better in that regard, but perhaps still not good enough. There's always a special challenge for someone in his position to prove that he is more than a celebrity.

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