Next year's election is shaping up as a doozy, with an open race for President, a potential challenge on the left to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and a bid by Governor Kate Brown to serve the final two years of what would have been John Kitzhaber's unprecedented fourth term.
There also will be open races for Oregon secretary of state and treasurer and possibly for Oregon labor commissioner if incumbent Brad Avakian decides to seek another office. Republicans will try to chip away at the firm grip of Democratic control in the Oregon House and Senate. And there could be a wild assortment of ballot measures.
The only Oregon statewide elected official not on the ballot in 2016 is Senator Jeff Merkley, who won re-election last year.
The most intriguing race involves Wyden, who has served in the U.S. Senate since he succeeded Bob Packwood following his resignation. His hardworking style and his rising Senate seniority should make his re-election bid a walk-over. However, labor and environmental interests, upset with Wyden's support for fast-track authority on international trade agreements, are threatening a primary challenge. Nobody so far has taken the bait. Congressman Peter DeFazio, who lost to Wyden in a tightly contested Democratic primary in 1996, has ruled out a challenge in 2016.
Brown, who ascended to the governorship as secretary of state when Kitzhaber resigned, could face opposition in both the primary and general election. One possibility is Treasurer Ted Wheeler, a Democrat who has been ruled ineligible to run for re-election because of term limits. Wheeler was appointed to fill the remainder of a term won by Ben Westlund who died in office. Wheeler had trained his political sights on succeeding Kitzhaber in 2018.
Several lower-profile Republicans have signaled interest in the gubernatorial race, but the GOP is likely to field a more well-known candidate for what is essentially an open race for governor, such as former candidate Allen Alley. Two interesting hopefuls are popular Gresham Mayor Shane Bemis and Rep. Sherrie Sprenger from Lebanon, who is a former school board member and police officer.
Jeanne Atkins was appointed secretary of state by Brown, but took the position as a caretaker. This is a seat that may be attractive to Avakian or Wheeler on the Democratic side. It also is being eyed by House Majority Leader Val Hoyle and Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum. Chances are these four potential candidates will try to sort out who runs for what office, especially since the treasurer's seat will have no incumbent either. No Republican has burst into frontrunner status for secretary of state or treasurer.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum is expected to seek re-election and may not face any serious challenge. Oregon's five members of Congress will be up for re-election, but none of them have attracted what appears at this point to be a serious challenger.
Oregon has become a solid blue state, making it hard for Republicans, especially ones who can make it through their own party's primary, to vie seriously for statewide positions. But there are a lot of questions going into 2016 that center on the open presidential race. While Hillary Clinton looks like a shoo-in to win the Democratic nomination, the GOP field is a jumble with as many as a dozen potential candidates, none of whom have at this point more than low double-digit support in polls.
While Oregon is rarely a presidential nominee kingmaker, the race could still be raging by next May, which means there will be intense GOP political activity that could elevate the name familiarity of down-ballot candidates for statewide office. A strong ground game is an absolute necessity for Republicans who have to make a dent in the Willamette Valley vote count.
A competitive presidential election and emotionally charged ballot measures can generate a large voter turnout, which can influence some legislative and local elections.
Oregon GOP strategists may opt for an all-out effort to shrink the Democratic majority in the legislature. The vast majority of legislative seats are heavily dominated by one party or the other, so the swing votes tend to be in a handful of suburban districts in Clackamas and Washington counties. Democrats will seek to hold on to their grip and possibly strengthening it in the Oregon Senate.
Some reports suggest House Speaker Tina Kotek is weighing a challenge to Portland Mayor Charlie Hales. Kotek also has been listed as a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate, though her political appeal overlaps with Brown's.
If Kotek and Hoyle run for other offices, then House Democratic leadership will face a shakeup after two sessions of relative political stability. That would open the door of political opportunity to move up for ambitious legislators such as Rep. Jessica Vega Pederson of Portland.