The Republican candidates for Oregon governor and US Senate participated in a forum, hosted by the College Republicans, on Jan. 21 at the OSU Memorial Union. There were about 75 people in attendance, including State senator Betsy Close. Close is unlikely to be challenged in a primary and will face off against the democratic nominee (likely Sarah Gelser) for State Senate District 8 in November.
Four Candidates for US Senate Jason Conger, the establishment guy, is a state rep from District 54 (Bend). He’s the clear frontrunner. His answers were vague, inoffensive, and short on policy specifics. He’s essentially Marco Romnicain.
Mark Callahan, the Tea Party guy, came off as robotic, with pro forma references to Reagan and quotes directly from his own PR materials. Beep beep boop. The levers and dials on his front panel did not suggest he’s got a real chance against Merkley.
Jo Rae Perkins, the outsider, is a former realtor and banker who went back to school at OSU for her bachelor’s after a long career in financial services. She was sincere and likeable, but her lack of political experience and credentials make her candidacy for US Senate somewhat delusional.
Tim Crawley, the kind of scary guy, is a lawyer whose campaign website actually says “Our planet’s well-being is the penultimate issue of our age.” I can only assume he thinks penultimate means “more than ultimate.” It doesn’t. His opening remarks were offensive, he gave odd, sometimes incoherent answers to questions all night. If Callahan and Perkins are dark horses, Crawley’s a black hole horse.
3 Candidates for Governor Dennis Richardson, state rep from District 4, serving Southern Oregon. Richardson is another establishment guy, but was by far the most prepared candidate on display, answering questions with lucid, well-thought-out arguments. A high point was when he pointed out that regardless of anyone’s feelings on marriage equality, his job as governor would be to defend the laws of the state, and if (when) it passes, that’s it. This type of frank talk goes far to restoring the Oregon Republican party to competitiveness.
Jon Justesen, is a successful ranch owner who is trying to change politics in Oregon. He’s a straight shooter, but a poor public speaker. A lot of his thoughts came out jumbled and, more troubling for his campaign, the thoughts that he did get across made him sound like a dyed in the wool liberal. He advocated a higher minimum wage, a sales tax and universal healthcare. The only way he could have fallen flatter with the crowd is if he were named Jimmy Hussein Clinton.
Bruce Cuff is a real estate broker lacking the resume to become governor of Oregon. He came off as the most likable candidate on the stage, giving common sense explanations of conservative ideas instead of spouting platitudes. His candidacy is of the quixotic variety though, and he could use some help (like a website). I wouldn’t expect to see him still in the race six months from now.
At the end of the evening, one thing should have been clear to everyone in the room; there were only 2 real candidates on stage. Dennis Richardson and Jason Conger were the only ones who managed to not say anything offensive, to not appear completely unprepared, to not just read their campaign pamphlet like a stuttering automaton, and to not completely betray conservative principals. Their chances of victory against Kitzhaber and Merkley are still infinitesimal.
Perhaps this is why:
“If I’m in Nazi Germany, and Nazi Germany is the Democratic Party, you’d all be dead. They would fire a machine gun of regulation at you… Nazi Germany right now is trying to exterminate us.”
Tim Crawley said that in his opening remarks. Aside from my spit take from the back of the room, nobody batted an eyelash. Instead he was greeted with applause when he finished.
Certainly there are more serious issues facing Oregon than poorly constructed rhetoric, but the fact that nobody on stage or in the audience seemed to take issue with the comparison of regulation-happy democrats to Nazis doesn’t bode well for the chances of the party to return to respectability in the polls.