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Scott Bruun: Presidential Politics in Oregon

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


The pitch of enthusiasm leading up to last week’s GOP presidential debate felt a little like a Super Bowl – at least with Republicans hungry for a presidential victory. That enthusiasm may have been even more pronounced for Oregon Republicans. Considering the fact that the GOP hasn’t won a statewide race since Gordon Smith’s 2002 U.S. senate victory, Oregon’s Republicans will take their wins wherever they can find them.

Nationally, there’s no shortage of discussion around presidential politics and the 2016 race. But what about Oregon? Does Oregon have a real role to play in presidential politics? And which candidates best fit the spirit of Oregon and the Oregon psyche?

On the Republican side, let’s start with the obvious: Donald Trump does not fit Oregon. Even if he were to somehow win the nomination, which he won’t, Trump couldn’t win Oregon’s seven electoral votes even if half of Portland missed the election in favor of a naked bike ride. Trump’s frumpy, “throw-em-all-out, they’re all stupid” shtick appeals to some. But his monumental narcissism and brand of crony-capitalism falls flatter in Oregon than a Seattle Sounders victory at Providence Park.

Walker, Cruz and Paul wouldn’t do much better. Walker is too plain-vanilla Midwest. Cruz does not have enough “happy” in his warrior. And while Rand Paul’s libertarian bent would certainly have appeal among some of Oregon’s “do-it-if-it-feels-good” set, his thought and policy non sequiturs will eventually leave Portlanders cold.

Carson, Huckabee and Kasich all have appeal. Kasich would be an excellent commander-in-chief. Yet he, like Huckabee, is a tad too “older Republican” to win in our non-Republican, non-traditional state. And Ben Carson, while impressive, needs to do what Reagan did and become a governor before making any serious run for President.

So does this leave Oregon with Chris Christie, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio?

If Christie can carve a niche in Oregon, it will likely come from his “real guy” appeal. He’s not “Oregon Nice,” not even close. If you found yourself at a four-way intersection with Christie, there’s no chance he’ll smile and wave you through first. Yet maybe the contrast has appeal. Opposites attract, after all. And Christie’s biggest scandal? Bridge closure? No problem here in Oregon. He can just spin that as trying to get people out of their cars and on to bikes. The Earl Blumenauer of New Jersey.

Jeb Bush should have appeal in Oregon. The kind of work he did to reform public education in Florida, taking that state from one of the worst to one of the best performers, is desperately needed in Oregon. He’s a proven leader and would be an outstanding president. But in Oregon, given his last name, he’ll fall short. As written before, the Bush backlash remains alive and well in Portland even as the rest of the country has long since moved on.

A case can be made that it’s the other Florida guy, Senator Marco Rubio, who would do best in Oregon. Rubio is the best communicator of the bunch. He articulates a positive, inclusive vision for Americans, made even more appealing by his ethnic and working-class roots.

Rubio reminds people of another senator who ran for president some 56 years ago: Jack Kennedy. My father, then a student at Cleveland High School, had the amazing opportunity in 1960 to drive Senator Kennedy around Portland between campaign appearances. Unlike his tiringly-partisan son, my father is a swing-voter with deep Democrat roots. In other words, Dad supports the “best” candidate, regardless of party. His presidential candidate for 2016? Marco Rubio.

Still, the odds of a Republican presidential nominee actually winning in Oregon are remote at best. Any state that would twice elect a Jeff Merkley is unlikely to elect a Christie, Bush or Walker. Oregon, in fact, has not voted Republican for president since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Besides, we don’t get much love out here.

Oregon’s late primary and few electoral votes means we are little more than a quick fundraising stop-over between Seattle and San Francisco. Case in point was Hillary’s traffic-destroying, high-ticket-price fundraiser in Dunthorpe last week. Get in, get the cash, get out. That’s why Bernie Sanders deserves credit for hosting a full-scale rally in Portland last week.

And let’s be honest, the same folks who thought the St. Johns Bridge protest was an act of “courage,” the same folks who once rallied for Occupy Portland, will love Bernie’s brand of socialism.  

For my money though, for Oregon, I like the ticket of Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina. Two positive, energetic and tech-savvy candidates, two excellent communicators and two great stories. Two Americans who started with little, yet demonstrated that hard work and determination – not leviathan government, not socialism – are still the keys to American success.

Even in Portland.

Scott Bruun is a fifth-generation Oregonian and recovering politician. He lives with his family in the 'burbs', yet dutifully commutes to Portland every day where he earns his living in public affairs with Hubbell Communications. 


Related Slideshow: The Top 10 Most Politically Engaged States

A study by WalletHub ranked the 50 states based on their political engagement based on six key metrics, ranging from the percentage of registered voters in the 2012 presidential election to the total political contributions per adult population. Oregon ranks number 10. See which other states made the list. 

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