Senator Tim Knopp may be moving to the front of the pack of up-and-coming Republicans in Oregon, as his colleagues in the Oregon Senate GOP caucus added the freshman senator from Bend this week to its leadership team.
Knopp isn't really a freshman. He served three terms in the Oregon House, the last as majority leader, before leaving the legislature in 2005. He returned to the legislature after successfully challenging incumbent GOP Senator Chris Telfer in 2012 and easily gliding to victory in the general election in a GOP-leaning district.
In his race against Telfer, Knopp positioned himself to her political right and challenged her record on job creation. At the time, Knopp worked for the Central Oregon Builders Association and was a member of the Bend Chamber of Commerce board.
Knopp can come across as neo-conservative, but his reputation inside the Capitol would be better described as a business conservative. His manner is direct and his approach to issues leans more toward getting something done than toeing an ideological line.
Even though Knopp has been married for nearly 30 years and has four children, he retains a boyish appearance, a fetching smile and a shock of red hair that inescapably makes you think of Ron Howard in his Opie years.
Oregon Republicans have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to win statewide office with a former professional basketball player, high tech CEO and, currently, a medical doctor. Knopp would offer a different choice — someone who can warm up the GOP political base, but still argue convincingly that he knows a thing or two about governing and government.
When he was elected to the Senate, there was little doubt among political insiders that Knopp would ascend in the GOP leadership. Some speculated he might try to elbow out Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli. Instead, Knopp has bided his time and accepted a role — recruiting candidates — that usually is rewarded with the top job if your candidates win.
After a long time in the wilderness of minority status in the Senate, Ferrioli and Knopp realize the only way to gain a majority is to find a way to win a swing district now held by a Democrat. That requires not only good candidates but a good strategy. Knopp may be one of the GOP's best strategists with a seat in the legislature.
Retaking control of the Oregon Senate may not be a red-hot issue on the campaign trail, but it would be a sign that Knopp knows how to campaign to win. When all is said and done, that's what it takes to win a statewide election.