Is Oregon too progressive for Kerry to win it?

A guide to the swing states.
Aug. 19 2004 4:40 PM

Oregon

Is it so progressive that Kerry could lose it?

(Continued from Page 1)

But the state's cultural divide won't matter as much this year as it did in 2000, Hibbits says. That election was held in a time of peace and prosperity, so voters felt free to cast their ballots on matters less important than war. "If we were at peace, I think the same-sex marriage issue would be devastating [to the Democrats] this year"—and Kerry would be in danger of losing Oregon, Hibbits says. The state's gay marriage ban will pass overwhelmingly in November, he predicts, but Kerry will still win the state.

As I drive south out of Portland toward Salem and Eugene, I hear some of the extreme leftism Hibbits is complaining about on the radio. The host and a guest were discussing an upcoming "Life After Capitalism" conference. The guest, Z magazine co-founder Michael Albert, declared that today's corporate workplaces in America are "worse than Stalinist Russia." As I neared Salem, however, a more familiar brand of nutjob began speaking over the air. He claimed, among other things, that kids had gone to jail for six months for saying the word "Jesus" in school. If these two people represent how Oregonians think of the two sides in our national political debate, no wonder so many have raised their middle fingers and voted for Nader. Or the Libertarian candidate, as 5 percent of Oregonians did in the most recent gubernatorial election, that party's best showing in the state's history.

Bob Avery, Lane County GOP chairman
Bob Avery, Lane County GOP chairman
Advertisement

Some Oregon politicians are trying to bridge the gap. In Eugene's Lane County, the chairman of the local Republican Party is Bob Avery, a jolly Santa Claus of a man and a self-declared conservative Christian who is nonetheless trying to blunt his party's less popular edges in a libertarian-minded state. Avery, who used to be a part of the motorcycle group "Cruzers for Christ" as well as a motorcycle-lobbying organization called ABATE, A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, has tried to make the previously "reactionary" GOP in Lane County more electable. "We need to pay attention to what will work within the district," by not leading with conservative positions on social values, he says. Instead, he emphasizes taxes and growth, though, in Oregon fashion, he adds, "not unbridled growth."

Oregon used to be known for independent-minded Republicans, such as Gov. Tom McCall and Sen. Bob Packwood. Are Oregon Republicans still like that, I ask Avery, or are they more like Republicans nationally now? "It's kind of hard to say, because we haven't put up an independent Republican in a statewide race in a long time," Avery says. "They need to be that, I think, to win the statewide races."

Which brings up yet another problem President Bush faces in Oregon. Four years ago, he was a compassionate conservative, a candidate who tried to rebrand his party in a new, perhaps independent-minded light. This time around, Democrat-leaning swing voters won't buy it. If that alone doesn't derail the president in Oregon, then yet another of the state's many firsts will. Though the state has recently dropped out of the No. 1 slot, for most of the Bush presidency, Oregon has led the nation in something it's not particularly proud of: unemployment.

Correction, Aug. 19, 2004: The article originally stated incorrectly that David Wu is the first Chinese-American member of Congress. (Return to corrected sentence.)

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

How Tattoo Parlors Became the Barber Shops of Hipster Neighborhoods

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 9:19 AM Alibaba’s Founder on Why His Company Is Killing It in China
  Life
Quora
Oct. 2 2014 8:27 AM How Do Teachers Kill the Joy of Reading for Students?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Culturebox
Oct. 2 2014 9:08 AM Demons Are Real A horror movie goes behind the scenes on an Intervention-like reality show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 2 2014 7:30 AM What Put the Man in the Moon in the Moon?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?