Word on the street, in the think tanks, and across both print and broadcast media is that State Representative Knute Buehler offers Republicans the best chance to win the governorship since 2010. That’s when former Portland Trail Blazer and political neophyte Chris Dudley came within two percentage points of defeating John Kitzhaber and ending the Democratic Party’s vise grip on the governorship since 1982.
Just as this article was submitted, The Oregonian—the state’s most influential newspaper—has just endorsed Mr. Buehler. Even the certifiably left-of-center Willamette Week is couching their coverage, leaving open the possibility of what would be a major upset.
From an objective standpoint, it would be hard to fictionally invent a more ineffectual figure than Democrat Governor Kate Brown. However, if you’re looking at things from the perspective of the progressive left, Brown is doing exactly what Democrats are always elected to do in Oregon: preserve the status quo. For that constituency, Brown is merely the latest in a long line of successful placeholders, in power primarily to ensure that the Democrat machine that runs Salem remains at the helm of power.
But for an outnumbered state GOP, many Independents, and a growing number of fed-up Democrats, Brown’s lackluster performance and accomplishment-free tenure add up to an equation seldom seen in the Beaver State: the chance for a Republican to win a statewide race.
Brown rose to the governorship controversially in 2015 after Democrat John Kitzhaber resigned under cloudy circumstances regarding his unwedded “first lady,” an environmentalist liberal whose questionable ethics compromised Kitzhaber and denied him an unprecedented fourth term. Both have been the subject of lengthy investigations. Brown filled out the term she inherited by succession, and then managed to win fair and square against a knowledgeable but charisma-challenged Republican oncologist.
That was then. Buehler is a craftier breed of political animal.
He’s pro-choice, pro-same sex marriage, and knows how to walk the centrist walk in a state dominated electorally by Deep Blue population centers. In the age-old trope of campaign ad optics, Buehler is cast in obligatory sunlight, accompanied by his attractive wife and the family dog, juxtapositioned opposite a shadowy Brown who even Democrats have trouble characterizing as effective, influential, or in possession of leadership qualities.
A successful orthopedic surgeon, Buehler further benefits from having the patina of a healthcare professional going for him and has made point-system proposals on healthcare a cornerstone of his campaign. He has similarly put Oregon’s burgeoning homeless problem high on his slate of issues. Homelessness has grown exponentially since Brown began her terms, with rubbish-strewn encampments all too evident in the Blue cities, and homeless-related crime seriously impacting the quality of life in Portland. No decisive policy, or even substantive declaration, has come down on the issue from Brown’s gubernatorial offices.
What is not mentioned in Buehler’s campaign spots is his support for ending Oregon’s 30-year-old legal designation as a sanctuary state, a designation that prohibits state and local agencies from cooperating with federal authorities on issues of immigration status. Buehler recently joined eighteen of the state’s county sheriffs calling for enactment of the sanctuary repeal. Though he chooses not to highlight this position in his television spots, Buehler may be courting a hidden plurality. Polling on Measure 105 shows that support for ditching sanctuary status is gaining on the margin of error.
Brown, on the other hand, seems to have never met an illegal alien or un-vetted refugee she didn’t want to welcome into Oregon communities, and often seems to care more about noncitizens than rural and suburban American voters, many of whom are chomping at the bit to vote her out of office. The current governor has also been largely AWOL on the subject of the looming public employee union retirement shortfall that threatens to bankrupt the state and deplete essential services for all Oregonians—a non-position in keeping with her progressive mandate.
Aside from possible bellwether indicators about where the Left Coast might be headed, Oregon’s vote usually has scant impact on national elections. Returns usually come after everything has been decided, either augmenting a Democrat victory or failing to stop a nationwide move to the Republicans.
But Oregonians remain as deeply divided as the rest of the country and are thoroughly engaged in the midterm outcome. The night of November 6 may be a long one hereabouts.