Oregon Democrats hope Obama has long coattails

Oregon Democrats hope Obama has long coattails
President Barack Obama boards Air Force One, Monday, Sept. 17, 2012, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., en route to Ohio. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon isn't likely to determine the outcome of the presidential election this year, but the race for the White House could sway the outcome of other races in Oregon.

Intense enthusiasm for Barack Obama helped Democrats build supermajorities in the Oregon House and Senate in the 2008 election. There's little doubt Obama will win Oregon's seven electoral-college votes again this year despite far less excitement among the electorate that propelled him to a 16-point victory here last time.

But Democrats are hoping Obama's coattails will still be long enough to help carry them to victory in a number of close races for state office. Republicans, meanwhile, hope they're competing in a more comfortable environment than the one that walloped them up and down the ballot four years ago.

"I think the president had some coattails in 2008. He'll have some coattails in 2012 again," said Trent Lutz, director of the Democratic Party of Oregon. "The biggest effect of that is how many people will actually turn out to vote and the enthusiasm of voters in general."

Democrats have carried Oregon in every presidential election since 1988, although Obama's 16-point victory in 2008 was uncharacteristically high. George W. Bush Came within 7,000 votes against Al Gore in 2000.

Reliable public polling on the Oregon race has been scarce, but operatives across the political spectrum say they expect Obama to win Oregon, though probably by a smaller margin than his last one. They don't expect either campaign to spend much money here beyond a standard get-out-the-vote operation.

Obama's campaign has workers around the state as part of its effort to build "neighborhood teams" that will "work together to re-elect President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket," Paul Bell, a campaign spokesman, said in an email.

Lutz said the state Democratic Party has a parallel operation to connect with Democratic-leaning voters who don't consistently cast ballots.

Republican Mitt Romney's campaign has a field office in Beaverton and is also relying on volunteers who make phone calls from home, said Greg Leo, a spokesman for the Oregon Republican Party. Romney's operation is more robust than John McCain's was four years ago, Leo said, and McCain pulled his state director out of Oregon shortly after the GOP convention, he said.

The enthusiasm that helped Democrats in 2008 has switched sides, Leo argues.

"A lot of the most liberal Democrats are critical of Obama for not following through on all the promises he made," Leo said. "There is a lot of enthusiasm this time on our side."

While Oregonians won't be voting for the highest-profile offices of governor and U.S. senator, a number of lower-level races are expected to be close. Democratic incumbents for secretary of state and labor commissioner are facing tough challenges from well-funded Republicans, and control of the Legislature is also at stake.

Republicans hope to knock down the Democrats' slim majority in the state Senate, although most of the 15 seats up for election this year are in Democratic-leaning districts. Both parties are competing fiercely in a handful of competitive House races — most of them in the Portland suburbs — that will determine control of the chamber.

The House is currently tied after a strong GOP showing in the 2010 election wiped out the Democrats' 60-percent supermajority, which gave them enough votes to raise taxes without needing Republican support.

Democrats say the presidential race gives them the upper-hand.

"If Oregonians turn in their ballots, we expect to have a very good year," said Rep. Tina Kotek of Portland, who leads Democratic efforts to pick up seats in the House. "Historically, we have picked up seats in presidential years, especially when there's a strong top of the ticket."

Democrats are targeting Republicans in several districts that strongly supported Obama in 2008 and are likely to do so again, Kotek said, trying to tie Republicans to their party's standard bearer.

"They're out there spreading the Mitt Romney message about tax cuts and giveaways to corporations," she said. "My guess is: Oregonians are going to reject that Romney vision of the world, that half the country are moochers and deadbeats."

Rep. Andy Olson of Albany, who's in charge of the GOP's House campaign operations, said Republican candidates are more popular than Romney in their districts. Republicans currently control several districts where Democrats outnumber Republicans, he said.

"That says to me there are a lot of independents as well as Democrats across the state that like the message, get the conservative values we have and want to move forward with Oregon and make Oregon better," Olson said.