The conventional wisdom said that John Kitzhaber, a popular two-term former governor running in a heavily Democratic state, would have a cakewalk to a third term. But suddenly he finds himself in a horse race.
A Survey USA poll released last Friday gives Kitzhaber’s Republican rival, Chris Dudley, a shocking seven-point lead over the ex-governor. The phone survey of 800 Oregonians showed 47% for Dudley and 40% favoring Kitzhaber, with 6% supporting Soloflex founder Jerry Wilson, a possible Progressive Party candidate.
“Among the more distressing findings, Kitzhaber is trailing substantially among men, older voters, and independents,” Jeff Alworth writes on the progressive/Democratic Blue Oregon site. “Worse, Dudley actually has a slight edge in Portland.” (Emphasis in original.)
Alworth speculates that being a political unknown is working to Dudley’s advantage at this point. While Kitzhaber’s record and positions on issues are well-known, he writes, Dudley – a former center for the Portland Trail Blazers and other NBA teams – is “a local celebrity onto whose blank political canvas voters can project generally positive feelings. That will change as Dudley becomes more a political figure and less a former Blazer.”
Oregonian political blogger Jeff Mapes also notes that the survey might have been somewhat skewed in favor of Republicans: 38% of those polled identified themselves as Democrats and 35% as Republicans, but statewide the Democrats hold a 10-point registration edge. Also, Wilson being identified as “Progressive” might have pulled some support away from Kitzhaber.
Despite these caveats, Alworth writes, “there's no reason to doubt that [the poll is] an accurate snapshot of where the race is now. … Kitzhaber may win this race – but he's going to have to win it. Dudley is a real candidate, and a real threat.”
He’s a real candidate, all right, But I continue to be troubled by the question of what Dudley really stands for and why he suddenly came out of nowhere – having never held public office of any kind – to run for the biggest job in the state. I’ve already pointed out that he’s enjoyed generous support from deep-pocketed donors; you have to wonder what they expect for their money if their horse wins.
There's no doubt that Dudley is a personable guy, the kind of guy you’d like to have beer with. But I keep remembering people used to say that about a certain friendly and outgoing Republican who ran for president in 2000.