Oregonians voting in the May 17 primary will almost feel like their ballots mattered. Almost.
After primaries in five Eastern states today, including delegate-rich Pennsylvania, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may be close to locking up their respective parties’ presidential nominations. The Oregon primary may not matter after all.
But whether or not the outcome is sealed up, the presidential candidates are expected to come here. John Kasich is scheduled to campaign in Oregon this week. Trump, Clinton and Sanders should come, too.
The only other remaining candidate, Ted Cruz, won’t show up. Cruz and Kasich cut a deal by which Cruz will concentrate on Indiana and Kasich will campaign in New Mexico and Oregon. Their collective goal – and increasingly desperate hope – is to win enough delegates to block Trump’s seemingly inevitable march to the GOP presidential nomination this June. Kasich says the divide and conquer strategy was necessary because he and Cruz have limited time and campaign cash.
Kasich has been embraced by a good chunk of Oregon’s GOP establishment, with former Oregon lawmaker Bruce Starr steering his campaign activity here. Kasich’s pragmatic approach to policy and his refusal to engage in negative campaigning fit pretty well with Oregon’s temperament, but the Ohio governor may be viewed by GOP conservatives as not conservative enough. For example, Oregon’s pro-life leader said the Kasich-Cruz deal wouldn’t change her group’s endorsement of Cruz. It also doesn’t help that the Kasich team neglected to submit anything for the Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet.
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders may make his Oregon campaign a referendum on issues he wants to see in the party’s national platform. Sanders sent out a slick mailer devoted entirely to five-point plan to combat climate change. He also has shown an ability to attract a huge crowd at his previous rallies in Portland.
Clinton has experienced hands guiding her Oregon campaign activity. Expect the Clinton pitch in Oregon to be for party unity in the fall to prevent Trump or any other GOP candidate from capturing the White House. Clinton might underscore the need for party unity by pointing to the nomination of U.S. Supreme Court justices who will preserve abortion rights and key aspects of Obamacare and possibly overturn Citizens United, the decision that opened the floodgates to large and sometimes secret corporate campaign contributions.
A Trump appearance, which his local backers are encouraging, would be an event. Despite promises of acting more presidential on the campaign trail, Trump seems to be back to his old ways – calling out critics and taking aim at Clinton. At a rally this week, Trump mocked Kasich for always campaigning while he’s eating.
Because Oregon’s Democratic and Republican primaries are closed, non-affiliated Oregon voters won’t get a chance to cast a ballot for a major party candidate. That invariably incites a debate about a different kind of primary that allows everyone to vote, regardless of party registration.
The Oregon primary may not really matter in determining who wins the 2016 GOP and Democratic presidential nominations, but it will make many Oregonians feel as if their votes matter a little bit. Oregon’s handful of delegates may be enough to push Trump near or over the 1237 delegates he needs to capture the GOP nomination on the first ballot and avoid a contested convention. Oregon’s Democratic vote could lend its voice to the need for progressive platform planks. .
We aren’t likely to see candidates eating at our favorite local diners, but are likely to see them at events, not just faces in the backseat of limousines rushing to or from the airport after a fly-in fundraiser. That makes the Oregon primary matter. Almost.