Cautionary Coat-tails in 2012 Presidential Race

The short McCain presidential campaign coat-tails in Oregon in 2008 may have cost former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith his job.Based on the present and projected GOP presidential lineup of potential nominees, it is hard to imagine President Obama losing California, Washington and Oregon in his 2012 bid for re-election. It is the Left Coast, after all.

But winning isn't everything in presidential politics. A candidate may not have coat-tails, but his or her campaign does. Those coat-tails can make a huge difference in so-called down ballot races for Congressional seats and statewide offices.

The most notable recent example occurred in 2008 when Republican presidential hopeful John McCain pulled the plug on his Oregon campaign. That pullout left a late, gaping hole in Senator Gordon Smith's campaign and arguably played a role in his eventual defeat by Jeff Merkley.

That helps explain why David Axelrod, Obama's top political adviser, showed up in Seattle to reassure Democratic officials and operatives the President wouldn't take the Pacific Northwest for granted.

Some show of force by the Democratic presidential candidate can translate into tangible help for fellow Democrats facing tough races. In Oregon, Congressmen Kurt Schrader and David Wu, assuming he survives a primary challenge, could be in fights for their political lives.

The absence of any credible Republican presidential campaign could handicap Oregon GOP candidates in congressional races and possibly could discourage an attractive candidate from running in 2012.

None of the Republican presidential wannabes look like high-fliers in the Northwest. Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, is arguably from this region, but her new address in Scottsdale, Arizona and mantra of "Drill, Baby, Drill" won't endear her to environmentally conscious Northwest voters. (Her gaffe about Paul Revere riding to warn the British probably won't endear her to New Englanders either).

Mitt Romney, Tom Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich have few if any ties to the Northwest, no appreciable political organizations here and improbable prospects of winning in this part of the country, where The Oregonian's Jeff Mapes points out Democrats have carried every presidential election since 1984.

The X-factor in the 2012 election will be the impact of social media, which can make up for the lack of political ground troops. Obama's 2008 campaign set a high bar for effective use of social media in organizing and fundraising. In the 2010 election cycle, Republicans demonstrated they had mastered the use of social media tools. Social media marketing can be powerful and profitable, but it remains to be seen whether it has political coat-tails.