Ron Paul

The Frontrunner, the Dwarfs and the Debate

If you were hankering for a great debate about health care, birth control and bombing Iran, don't expect to see Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney square off in Portland March 19. Photo by Panorama Mercantil.Oregon Public Broadcasting brushed off objections by Mayor Sam Adams, but it may be harder to sustain a GOP presidential primary debate in Portland without a frontrunner.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney dispatched a staff member to announce he wouldn't be participating in the March 19 debate in Portland hosted by OPB and broadcast by National Public Radio. Now the question is whether any of the three other remaining presidential candidates will participate. So far, only Newt Gingrich has committed to attend.

While Gingrich's outsized personality and political rhetoric can fill a stage, it is debatable whether the debate will go on if he is a solo act.

There have been 20 Republican presidential debates, the last one February 23 in Arizona. The contest since then has turned into a regional sideshow with Romney, Gingrich and Rick Santorum stumping the country in the shadow of advertising by their respective supporting SuperPACs. Ron Paul depends on his organic grassroots network of support.

Cautionary Coat-tails in 2012 Presidential Race

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.