Barack Obama

Trump’s Bad News is Every Republican’s Bad News

Former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith lost his seat in 2008 in part because GOP presidential candidate John McCain pulled out of the state while Barack Obama pursued a vigorous grassroots campaign that boosted Democratic voter turnout. Similarly, the absence of a national campaign structure in Oregon this year will be a huge loss for the state's Republicans.

Former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith lost his seat in 2008 in part because GOP presidential candidate John McCain pulled out of the state while Barack Obama pursued a vigorous grassroots campaign that boosted Democratic voter turnout. Similarly, the absence of a national campaign structure in Oregon this year will be a huge loss for the state's Republicans.

News this week that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign war chest is down to $1.3 million is sounding alarms for Oregon Republicans.

In stark contrast, Hillary Clinton raised nearly nine times more money than Trump in May, and she entered June with about $42 million to spend. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s campaign manager through the primaries who was fired on Monday, has called Trump’s campaign lean, with only 30 paid staffers. What cash and manpower there is will likely go to swing states, but Oregon isn’t viewed as one of those.

Donald Trump's decision to fire embattled campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is one of many signs of trouble for the presumptive Republican nominee's campaign leading into the November general election. 

Donald Trump's decision to fire embattled campaign manager Corey Lewandowski is one of many signs of trouble for the presumptive Republican nominee's campaign leading into the November general election. 

The bad news for Oregon Republicans is they won’t get much if any help from Trump to bolster their own campaigns. The absence of a national campaign structure is a huge loss. Just ask former two-term Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, who lost in 2008 to Jeff Merkley.

Smith became the first incumbent Oregon senator to lose re-election in 40 years. A key reason for his loss was the near absence of a campaign in Oregon by GOP presidential nominee John McCain compared to a vigorous grassroots effort by Barack Obama. What Republican apparatus there was got pulled in the latter stages of the campaign when McCain, strapped for money, concentrated on other states instead.

There is virtually no chance Trump will even try to score an upset victory in Oregon, which casts an even darker shadow over the nearly invisible campaigns of Republicans running for statewide office this year.

Donald Trump has less cash on hand than Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, whose campaigns have been suspended.  (Source:  NPR )

Donald Trump has less cash on hand than Ben Carson and Ted Cruz, whose campaigns have been suspended. (Source: NPR)

What seemed not that long ago to be a blockbuster election year in Oregon has turned into a bust. There are little known challengers trying to unseat Senator Ron Wyden and Governor Kate Brown. Dennis Richardson, the best known Republican running for statewide office after a better-than-expected challenge in 2014 to John Kitzhaber’s re-election, has so far run a low-profile campaign for secretary of state.

Figures from the FEC show Hillary Clinton with a robust campaign war chest approaching the general election. (Source:  NPR )

Figures from the FEC show Hillary Clinton with a robust campaign war chest approaching the general election. (Source: NPR)

Without the oomph of a national campaign, these GOP candidates may be left further in the fumes to their Democratic counterparts who will have the benefit of added fuel from an expected Hillary Clinton campaign team in Oregon.

The other political sparks that can incite higher voter turnout are ballot measures. Those don’t look too good for Republicans either. So far, only two measures have been certified for the November general election ballot in Oregon – one to repeal the mandatory 75-year-old retirement age for judges and the other to slap a major tax increase on corporations with $25 million or more in annual sales in the state. IP 28 is more likely to generate voter enthusiasm on the political left than the political right, even if it winds up losing.

A number of other measures, such as ones dealing with a higher minimum wage that might have bumped up turnout, have been scrapped because of the anticipated electoral brawl over IP 28. It's expected to suck up a lot of campaign cash.

Many of Trump’s most ardent supporters are voters who have hung out in the fringes of politics, many without casting ballots. Fundraising, campaign organizations and message discipline aren’t important to them and may even be antithetical to their vision of an ideal “tell-it-like-it-is" candidate. For political insiders who know through experience what it takes to win big-time races, Trump is a nightmare unfolding in slow motion.

Trump’s puny fundraising, his tiny staff and his ubiquitous media appearances in lieu of political advertising will affect more than his own poll numbers. They will affect many down-ballot candidates seeking re-election or, in Oregon’s case, trying to get noticed. Just ask Trump's 16 frustrated and defeated primary opponents.

The Might-Be, Could-Be Special Session

The September 30 legislative special session is the picture of conjecture. It might happen. Then again, it might not. If it does, we know when. If it doesn't, we may never completely know why.

Governor Kitzhaber and Senate President Peter Courtney appear to be in roughly the same position as President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Kitzhaber and Courtney see a grand budget deal as tantalizingly close, but face reticence or outright opposition from the political right and political left. 

Obama and Reid got a sprinkle of fairy dust on the Syrian issue with a possible diplomatic breakthrough by Russia convincing its ally to surrender chemical weapons to international authorities. Kitzhaber and Courtney might not be so lucky.

Republicans aren't eager to support a tax hike, which some business supporters see as the best antidote to a divisive ballot measure on taxation next year. House Democrats aren't thrilled about another round of benefit cuts to public employee retirees.

And the special session has another major component — the plan for Oregon to forge ahead alone on a new I-5 Columbia River bridge. Kitzhaber strongly supports this idea, but some of his allies aren't quite so firm. Courtney doesn't want to act unilaterally and offend Washington. Portland-area Democrats want assurance Tri-Met won't be on the hook to pay for operations and maintenance of light rail once it is extended into Clark County.

A Portland Democrat said he attended a fundraiser this week where half his colleagues were confident there would be a special session and the other half were equally confident there wouldn't be.

Oregon's Virtual Presidential Campaign

Oregon isn't a presidential battleground state, which means it has been reduced, in the phrasing of The Oregonian's David Sarasohn, to the role of "campaign ATM."

President Obama made a pit stop in Portland today to appear at a pair of fundraisers. His plane's vapor trail lingered longer than he did. The national press corps was here long enough, though, to scarf down some VooDoo donuts.

Obama followed in the footsteps of Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who has visited Oregon twice to collect campaign cash. Romney stayed longer because he scheduled more fundraising events. 

Neither candidate has staged a public event or submitted to an interview with local reporters to comment on issues of interest to Oregonians. Obama's visit was originally to include a grassroots event, but the shooting in Theater 9 in Colorado led to a schedule disruption. He did make a short stop at a breakfast place and visited with some veterans.

In previous election cycles, Oregon has been a state in play, attracting candidates from both major parties and often those from minor parties, such as the Green Party’s Ralph Nader. But the 2012 presidential election, so entertaining and unexpected in the GOP primary season, has turned into a predictable trench war targeting a shrinking number of undecided voters in a handful of battleground states. 

The election may be a foregone conclusion before the major party nominating conventions officially select the candidates in late August and early September. Naturally, both nominating conventions are on the other side of the continent.

So far, Oregonians haven't complained much about the presidential political slight. One reason is they have been spared the annoyance and anger sparked by endless attack ads, many funded by shadowy groups with unknown donors.

It is true, the absence of presidential attention has meant our job-producing manufacturing sector has gone largely unnoticed at press conferences and photo opportunities, which could produce memory-making pictures for their company walls.

Political operatives are quick to assure Oregonians they haven't been forgotten or, for that matter, taken for granted. Our votes count, even if the political assumption is that they already have been cast.

Is Health Mandate Liberal or Conservative?

Following the U.S. Supreme Court's somewhat surprising ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act, discussion now centers on a political verdict this November. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney says he will recommend repeal on his first day in office.

If Romney has Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, he may get his wish. The GOP majority in the House is voting today for the 31st time to repeal the act, which is a non-starter in the Democratically controlled Senate.

The venom over ObamaCare voiced in talk show commentary, letters to the editor and Republican speeches seems oddly out of touch with the history of the Act's most controversial provision — the individual health insurance mandate.

The idea emerged from the Heritage Foundation in 1989, which linked the mandate to its conservative political philosophy of individual responsibility. Early supporters included Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. The 2006 Massachusetts universal health care law includes an individual health insurance mandate.

San Francisco Chronicle writer Debbie Saunders commented, "Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, the party’s all-but-certain nominee, is the only Republican in the country who imposed a health care plan with an individual mandate on his state. Romney used to call the provision 'the ultimate conservative idea,' as it told citizens that they’d get government help only if they couldn’t afford to take care of themselves. Team Obama is so smitten with Romney’s past that White House aides often credit Romney with coming up with the template for ObamaCare."

So how did an idea with such strong conservative appeal turn into anathema among conservatives? Ezra Klein, writing in The New Yorker, attributed it to politics. Republicans hated to see Obama score a major political victory.

However, a deeper analysis suggests many Republicans — and a fair number of Democrats — grew worried that achieving universal access without significant health care cost controls would push the price of health care up, not down. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2009 that the individual health care mandate without cost controls would "add up to higher costs for taxpayers and consumers."

The cost of health care is a concern shared widely over the political spectrum. It is likely to become the next battleground, regardless of whether the Affordable Care Act remains in place or not.

What Does Health Care Ruling Mean to Oregon?

There are probably as many interpretations as there are analysts looking at the words that Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the Supreme Court in a historic 5-4 decision upholding major provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

It is tempting to delay comment because so much of what this landmark ruling means will play out over time, both in Washington, D.C. and around the country in states such as Oregon, where Governor John Kitzhaber has taken the lead in implementing reform measures.

Still, here are a few perceptions:

         *  Regardless of how the Court ruled, Oregon was committed to proceed with a number of reforms that emerged from the last two Oregon legislative sessions. That includes the governor's proposal to create Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) as mostly non-profit entities to handle the task of organizing and delivering Medicaid services to low-income Oregonians.

         From the governor's standpoint, the new CCOs — eight of which were approved this week to begin operating August 1 and a number of others are in the queue for a later start — will manage Medicaid closer to where people live, prompt providers to collaborate with each other for the benefit of patients and place a great emphasis on prevention, all (at least in theory) to save money.

         If money gets tighter and the CCO reforms don't work, the tough decisions — cutting recipients off Medicaid, cutting back on benefits or cutting provider reimbursements — will fall into the laps of regional or local CCO directors. In the past, these decisions would have been made on the Capitol Mall.

         *  The ruling does retain momentum toward the day, in late 2013 or early 2014, when Oregonians will have a chance to choose health insurance coverage through an online shopping center called an "insurance exchange."  Oregon already is a long way down the road toward starting its exchange and, arguably, would have continued regardless of how the court ruled. But the endorsement of an individual health insurance purchase mandate means the exchange will have a greater chance to succeed a year or so from now. With a few exceptions, those who now don't buy insurance will have to do so.