Keep an Eye Out for Dark-Horse Dudley

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Wow, what a weird election that was.

In Deschutes County, voters tossed out a district attorney who'd been in office for two decades (Mike Dugan), rejected a bond to expand the jail, gave the boot to one county commissioner (Dennis Luke) and kept another (Tammy Baney). In the gubernatorial primaries, Democrats chose a former two-term governor and Republicans chose a former NBA basketball player.

That last outcome - the victory of Chris Dudley, a former journeyman center for the Portland Trail Blazers and other teams - is the weirdest aspect of Tuesday's results for me. Two years ago, hardly anybody in Oregon except veteran Blazers fans knew who Dudley was. Now he's a major-party nominee for governor.

It happened in spite of Dudley's meager resumé (he's never held a public office, not even so much as a school board seat, and never before showed much interest in seeking one) and the fact that -- as anybody who's attended his events or watched his TV spots can testify -- he is not exactly Mr. Charisma.

One thing Dudley did have going for him, in a big way, was money - about $1.3 million of it, which is roughly $300,000 more than John Kitzhaber collected.

How did Dudley the political unknown manage to amass more campaign cash than a two-term former governor who's been around Oregon politics for decades? Well, it didn't hurt that he knows people with deep pockets - very, very deep.

The list of big ($10,000 and up) contributors to the Dudley campaign, as reported by ORESTAR, the secretary of state's office's on-line campaign finance database, reads like a Who's Who of Oregon business and industry. A few of the heavy hitters:

  • Phil Knight, a total of $100,000 in two $50,000 chunks (plus another $15,000 from Nike Inc.)
  • Peter Stott, CEO of Crown Pacific Corp, $10,000
  • Harry Merlo, controversial former CEO of Louisiana-Pacific, $10,000
  • Dan Harmon, chairman of Associated Oregon Industries, $10,000
  • Chris and Edward Maletis, owners of Maletis Beverage, a total of $25,000
  • Timothy Boyle, CEO of Columbia Sportswear, $10,000
  • Stimson Lumber Co., $40,000
  • Larry Wilson of Alpha Broadcasting, which owns five radio stations in Portland, $50,000
  • Kent Craford, CEO of Seaport Airlines (and also policy director of the Dudley campaign), $10,000
  • Broughton Bishop, chairman and CEO of Pendleton Woolen Mills, $10,000
  • Harold Schnitzer, developer, $10,000
  • And from out of state: Jeffrey Loria, art dealer and controversial owner of the Florida Marlins baseball team (named one of the "Greediest Owners in Sports" by ESPN), $50,000

Although Dudley has a lot to learn about giving stump speeches and presenting himself on TV, the Democrats would be stupid to underestimate him. In a year when anti-incumbent fever is running high, his political inexperience could be turned into an asset. He's a fiscal conservative, but doesn't carry a lot of social-conservative baggage that would alienate moderates. (For example, he's pro-choice.)

And having a bench stacked with multi-millionaires and billionaires who are willing to keep writing five- and six-figure checks won't hurt him a bit.

UPDATE: Looks like the Democrats aren't taking Dudley for granted -- they've already put up a website called Dudley Dolittle that makes fun of his lack of credentials and his vague, platitudinous positions on the issues. It features choice bits from Dudley's radio and TV appearances.


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