Sam Carpenter

Buehler Amps Up His Incumbent Challenge

Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

Bend Republican Knute Buehler casts himself as the best GOP hope to unseat Democratic incumbent Governor Kate Brown, but he will have to overcome political conservatives in his own party in Tuesday’s Oregon primary election to get the chance to test Brown this fall. [Photo Credit: AP]

The classic way for a challenger to take down an incumbent is to 1) raise doubts about the incumbent’s performance and 2) position yourself as a preferred alternative.

Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), the presumptive front-running GOP gubernatorial challenger, has been taking whacks at Governor Kate Brown for months and insisting he could do better. But his political challenge runs deeper. Buehler has to prove in next week’s GOP primary that he is a more attractive candidate than his more politically conservative fellow Republicans.

Buehler has raised and spent vastly more money than his GOP competitors, called out one opponent for having 21 tax liens against him and generally avoided mixing it up with fellow candidates in the hustings. This week, Buehler came up with a new tactic: a dress rehearsal for GOP voters on how he would campaign against Brown if he wins the GOP nomination.

Buehler tried to upstage Brown at her media event in Eugene to tout her support for improved foster care in Oregon. Buehler, who has been a fierce critic of Brown’s leadership on foster care, scheduled his own media event at the same location, blasted Brown’s performance and recalled his legislative proposal to increase spending on foster care in Oregon by $50 million.

The political troll of Brown was itself a prime example of what challengers have to do to unseat incumbents. But the timing and intensity of Buehler’s media event was probably intended to impress undecided GOP voters that the Bend Republican will do more than recite conservative doctrine if he is the Republican who wins the job.

Buehler has taken pains to create a political image outside the shadow of Donald Trump on the fairly safe grounds that Oregon is anything but Trump-friendly. His purported variance from conservative orthodoxy, including on emotion-charged issues such as abortion, haven’t necessarily swayed a segment of Oregon’s conservative political base. That’s why Oregon Right to Life threw its support behind Sam Carpenter, the opponent Buehler pointed out who has all those tax liens.

Since primary elections in Oregon and generally are bastions for the partisan faithful, Buehler could wind up next Tuesday as the candidate with the best chance to test Brown, but who can’t win his own primary. His best hope is to convince Republicans that having a chance to win in November is more rewarding than basking in the defeat of a political moderate in May.

His struggle to convince GOP conservatives was evident when he barely squeaked out a victory in a straw ballot among generally more moderate Washington County Republicans. It should be noted that only 75 Republicans showed up for the unusual pre-primary event.

And that’s the problem with the formula for defeating incumbents. It takes one more element to pull off the upset. After beating up the incumbent and touting your own competence, you need to make sure voter turnout favors your candidacy. That may not be the case on Tuesday for Buehler.

In what is viewed as a lackluster primary, turnout could be relatively low, which could mean a higher percentage of bedrock conservative voters. Much of Buehler’s general election appeal is to the growing group of non-affiliated Oregon voters. Unfortunately for Buehler, independent voters won’t get the chance to weigh in his primary gubernatorial bid.

Meanwhile, Brown faces only token opposition in the Democratic primary and will enter the general election with her campaign war chest intact and robust. Buehler may represent her toughest opponent, but only if he earns the GOP nomination on Tuesday.

 

A Look at the Relatively Quiet Oregon Gubernatorial Race

Oregon’s 2018 gubernatorial election has been relatively quiet so far, with Governor Kate Brown biding her time until the fall general election and front-running GOP challenger Knute Buehler trying to find a way to win the primary without getting beaten up on the campaign trail.

Oregon’s 2018 gubernatorial election has been relatively quiet so far, with Governor Kate Brown biding her time until the fall general election and front-running GOP challenger Knute Buehler trying to find a way to win the primary without getting beaten up on the campaign trail.

Oregon’s gubernatorial race continues to be a low-key affair with the election now just six weeks away and ballots due to arrive in mailboxes before then.

Democratic Governor Kate Brown doesn’t face any credible primary opposition and seems to be waiting to see who Oregon Republicans will choose to face her in the fall general election.

Rep. Knute Buehler from Bend has raised the most money among GOP candidates and struck a moderate political posture on abortion and guns, making him potentially a strong candidate to woo independent and alienated Democratic voters in November. However, Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon, has to win the May 15 primary against more right-leaning opponents, including former Blue Angels Commander Greg Wooldridge, who has been endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, and Bend businessman Sam Carpenter, who is an unapologetic supporter of President Trump.

The annual Republican Dorchester Conference straw ballot early in March favored Wooldridge over Buehler. Buehler downplayed the result, saying he had little time to mix and mingle with Dorchester conferees because he was in Salem for the short Oregon legislative session that adjourned just when the conference was beginning. Others viewed Buehler’s loss as his weakness with what have come to be called Trump voters.

Since then, Oregon Public Broadcasting reports Buehler has skipped several candidate forums attended by his GOP gubernatorial rivals, which has raised questions. “People are asking why. You know, it’s peculiar,” Baker County GOP Chairwoman Suzan Ellis Jones told OPB. Wooldridge’s campaign team has been blunter. “What is he hiding from. If he’s not willing to meet people face-to-face, I’m not sure he’s really ready to represent the people of Oregon,” said Russ Walker, a Woolridge campaign strategist.

There are 10 Republicans vying to take on Brown. Buehler has reported a campaign war chest of more than $3 million, while Wooldridge and Carpenter are the only other two hopefuls who have raised more than $100,000. Nobody’s campaign has taken to the airwaves so far.

Buehler is betting his experience serving two terms in the Oregon legislature, fundraising connections and moderate policy positions on reproductive rights and gun control will convince Republicans that he is the only GOP candidate with a chance to defeat Brown and become the first Republican since Vic Atiyeh to sit in the governor’s chair. Most of Buehler’s statements have come in the form of criticizing Brown.

Buehler reportedly bypassed challenging Brown in 2016, when she ran to fill the remaining two years of former Governor John Kitzhaber’s fourth term, because Democratic turnout was expected to be high in a presidential election year. However, 2018 may not be all that different as Democrats have energized their political base in response to actions by Trump, such as undermining Obamacare, challenging legalization of marijuana and dismantling environmental regulations. The Trump tax plan that will limit federal tax deductions for state and local taxes and Trump’s tariffs on trade with China have irritated upper-income Oregonians and alarmed farmers. Trump’s overall favorability rating in Oregon hovers below 40 percent.

Voters along the I-5 corridor from Eugene to Portland are reliably Democratic, but there will likely be more Democratic electoral efforts in rural Oregon aimed at Greg Walden, Oregon’s lone GOP congressman. The Republican gubernatorial nominee, whoever it is, may be forced to spend time and resources to defend the Red State part of Oregon.

In the general election, Brown will be attacked as a weak leader who has presided over state agency foul-ups and resulted in a fairly high turnover rate of agency leaders. Brown will cite her leadership in a major transportation funding measure, a hike in the state minimum wage and create of a state-sponsored retirement savings plan.

Buehler probably will need to dig into his campaign fund to raise his visibility before the primary, while Brown probably will hold off any major media outreach until the general election campaign is underway. She has the luxury of using the next few months to bolster her $3.2 million campaign bank account.

That means for now, Oregonians can enjoy the relative quietude of the gubernatorial race. It promises to get a lot noisier and nastier.