Every Man for Himself
With the general election seven months away, current national polls look good for
congressional Democrats and bad for Republicans. Recent Newsweek and Time magazine
polls put Democrats 10 points ahead of GOP candidates in this year’s congressional
elections. Local pollster Tim Hibbitts says these polls are consistent with what he has
been seeing for the last few months: “somewhere between nine and 14 points.”
Do the poll numbers suggest that the Democrats will win the Congress in November?
Maybe. At least the U.S. House of Representatives. Will the possible backlash against the
GOP on the federal level translate to Democrat success in state and local elections? Tip
O’Neill once said, “All politics is local,” yet recent non-Presidential Elections have been
national in scope—1994 and 2002 are the two best examples.
In Oregon this autumn, a national election weighted heavily in favor of the Democrats
would be troublesome for Republicans, especially since they have not won the Oregon
governorship since 1982, and the state’s economy has underperformed the national
average during the last six years. Locally, the city of Portland has lost 30,000 jobs in its
downtown core since the Katz/Sten regime began a dozen years ago. Should these
mediocre/poor job performances be rewarded because of a possible national Democrat
trend that is building in reaction to a stubborn and unpopular Iraq war?
Hibbitts says not to underestimate the sophistication of voters this November. “I can see a
scenario on the federal level where Republicans may well be punished. On the state and
local level, if voters are displeased with the status quo, they may take it out on whoever is
in power. Kulongoski in Oregon, Granholm in Michigan, and Rendell in Pennsylvania all
govern states that voters believe are headed in the wrong direction.”
The pollster doesn’t believe that the national climate will help these three Democrats in
their reelection races. Instead, they will win or lose them on their merits.
Anticipating little national help, some local incumbents are using damage control tactics
against possible voter reprisal. Case in point is Erik Sten, whose ascendance as the
dominant political power in Portland happened in inverse relation to the city’s economic
decline. Writes Sten’s sometimes press agent, Oregonian columnist Steve Duin, about the
incumbent’s challengers in a recent Portland City Club debate:
Gloom was a common theme. Given their distaste for the ‘status quo,’ none of the
challengers for Sten’s seat had anything positive to say about a civic landscape dotted
with cranes and construction projects. When Sten announced, ‘I’m the one person up
here who’s saying I love our city and I love where it’s going,’ no one stepped up to
disagree with him.
Loving the city and where it’s going, after a loss of 30,000 jobs and 20,000 school kids,
turns logic upside down—something that Hibbitts believes voters may not appreciate this
BrainstormNW - April 2006