Gordon Smith: #61 in popularity

Gordon SmithThe details of the recent national SurveyUSA poll are starting to come out, and here's the latest: Gordon Smith ranks #61 in popularity among the 100 U.S. Senators - with a below-average approval (52%) rating and an above-average disapproval (34%) rating.

By comparison, Senator Ron Wyden ranks #32 - with an above-average approval (58%) and a below-average disapproval (28%).

Digging into the details, there are some interesting tidbits:

* Unlike many Republicans, Gordon Smith does better among women (55%) than among men (49%).

* Democrats actually give Smith higher marks (45%) than do independents (42%). Even 34% of self-described "liberals" approve of his job-performance.

* His approval ratings in Portland (54%) are better than his approval in the rest of the state (49%).

So, the question for BlueOregonians: Is Gordon Smith beatable in 2008? What sort of candidate would run against him most successfully? Any names to suggest?

  • (Show?)

    We'd certainly need someone charismatic, who can show they really want the seat, and who can show Smith as the right-wing line tow-er he really is. I'm not sure who that would be, though, and no one currently in elected office comes to mind. Maybe a newcomer?

  • djk (unverified)

    DeFazio? Any Democrat who can consistently win the Fourth District probably could win the state.

  • forethought (unverified)

    I'm with djk, DeFazio could take the seat for us.

    And replacing Smith should be a priority - not only does he caucus with the republicans, but he would have voted to eliminate the filibuster. He's more of a right-wing partisan than he likes to show for left-leaning Oregon, he supports the bare minimum of positions he can to keep his job. Oregon can do better, and DeFazio would be an excellent senator.

  • afs (unverified)

    I'll throw former Gov. Kitzhaber's name into the discussion. I know he walked away from this match-up before, but maybe he could be recruited now. He's still one of the most intersting figures in Oregon politics.

  • (Show?)

    Smith is beatable unless he moves more to the center in reality and not just during the next camapaign. As Democrats we need to keep the pressure on him and make the public more aware of what he really does. Frankly the work that has been done in Oregon by Ed Yoon and his group fighting the President's Social Security platform shows what can be done. Smith has been forced to get off the fence and oppose the President's plan even though it is clear that he would slide back in a heartbeat if he thought he could get away with it.

    Since the Oregonian does not publicize more than 2-3 votes a year it would be very helpful if either the party or someone else would maintain an on-going campaign publicizing Smith's non-centrist positions. It could track and publicize his positions on a regular basis, say a web site, as well as here on Blue Oregon. This will either force him to modify his votes or change the perception in Oregon that he is really a moderate in the tradition of Mark Hatfield. We need to get the middle ground voters to understand that a vote for Smith is a vote for Bush's policies.

    As for an attractive progressive Democratic candidate with equally good hair that can appeal to the business and independent vote I nominate Greg MacPherson.

  • Kelly Steele (unverified)

    Gordon Smith has not been "forced to get off the fence and oppose the President's plan" on Social Security. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Smith hasn't said one meaningful word on the topic, and his voting record (the only thing that matters here) has him supporting privatization on more than one occassion. Smith would assuredly vote with Bush on this, but rues the day he may have to cast that vote (as nearly 70% of Oregonians oppose the plan.)

    Let's be clear -- Gordon Smith supports private accounts for Social Security that would undermine and unravel the program's guaranteed benefits. The VERY LAST thing we need to do as progressives intent on holding Gordon Smith accountable for his non-statements on issues is pretend they're something they're not.

  • Sid (unverified)

    Kitzhaber or DeFazio.

  • LT (unverified)

    Good suggestions on possible candidates!

    In the last few weeks before he was re-elected, I remember a conversation with someone who said "Yeah, Gordon will probably get re-elected because he has buried his opponent in money and negativity, but I have lost all respect for him".

    The ideal candidate would really want the job (Kitzhaber would have to want to move to DC, and if so he would be a great candidate because he knows so much about Gordon Smith and his record); could fight back when attacked (just imagine DeFazio doing that); could talk about positive alternatives and not just attack Republicans; would have enthusiastic support from Democrats but be able to appeal to swing voters and maybe even some Republicans.

    Democrats have to learn to offer positive alternatives and not just be the anti-Republican party. There are lessons in how Wyden won in January of 1996, and the fact those lessons were not followed in the regular 1996 election is the reason we have a Senator Gordon Smith. A DSCC choice who outspent the next nearest opponent 10-1 and the next nearest 100-1(both men who had been active candidates previously and had both intelligent ideas and lots of friends and supporters) was not a won primary as far as some of us were concerned, but a BOUGHT primary. And the press was complicit in the DSCC strategy saying "And in Oregon the candidate is..." before the primary.

    There is a wonderful Washington Post column today saying Democrats need to offer more solutions. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/08/18/AR2 005081801645.html?nav=pq

    It begins " Though the Republicans control both houses of Congress as well as the White House, they seem to be suffering from political and intellectual exhaustion. They are better at slash-and-burn campaigning than governing.

    So where are the Democrats amid this GOP disarray? Frankly, they are nowhere. They are failing utterly in the role of an opposition party, which is to provide a coherent alternative account of how the nation might solve its problems."

    And it ends this way (yes, I sent an email saying not all who blog are angry) America doesn't need more of the angry, embittered shouting matches that take place on talk radio and in the blogosphere. It needs a real opposition party that will lay out new strategies: How to withdraw from Iraq without creating even more instability? How to engage a world that mistrusts and often hates America? How to rebuild global institutions and contain Islamic extremism? How to put the U.S. economy back into balance? A Democratic Party that could begin to answer these questions would deserve a chance to govern.

    Something to think about.

  • (Show?)

    Don't go taking McPherson away from us Lake Oswegans who love him!!


    I was never able to get any kind of answer from Smith about Social Security, and I got exactly the same mushmouth response this morning when I asked him about Iraq policy in light of Hagel and Feingold's statements.

    Count me in on either Kitz or DeFazio. Everytime I see Kitz in town though, he looks like he's having too much fun with his son to go back to politics.

  • (Show?)

    OK, people, if we're going to go suggesting Greg Macpherson - let's at least spell his name right. It's 'Mac' not 'Mc' and the 'p' is lower-case. (Definitive source here.)

  • (Show?)

    goodness--I knew that. I apologize, Greg!

  • (Show?)


    OK you are right that Smith hasn't changed his fundamental position, but he won't support Bush on SS because of the pressure that the good guys have put on him. The point is we have stopped him from actively supporting Bush.

    However, without a steady source of info. on Smith most people couldn't tell you what he supports or not because he will "mush" it up. Since the MM (Oregonian)won't document it someone else needs to on the web. How about you?

  • Gordie (unverified)

    Don't forget that support versus whom one actually votes for are not the same thing. Living here in the "rest of Oregon," Smith is often perceived as not conservative enough. Meanwhile, part of DeFazio's big re-election numbers are from the benefits of incumbency. In other words if Smith's opposition is rather liberal, a number of those who don't necessarily approve of Smith's job performance will vote for him. Of course here in the "rest of Oregon," that's not a lot of votes.

  • Sid (unverified)

    The other thing is that groups like Human Rights Coalition need to stop endorsing Republican candidates, as they did with Gordon Smith. They think just because Smith is "friendly" to the gay rights community that they should endorse him.

    Smith stood on the Senate floor last summer and supported a constitutional amendment that would discriminate against gays by forbidding them to marry. Do they think that Smith would vote against a Bush SCOTUS nominee who would come in the form of a Scalia (if you don't know Scalia's views on homosexuality, read his dissenting opinion from the Lawrence vs. Texas 2003 decision.)

    When I spoke with an HRC representative after they had endorsed Smith, he said they wanted to have some clout on the Republican side of the aisle. I said, you'd have a lot more clout if you had a progressive Dem fighting for you, helping nominate judges who believe in equal and civil rights.

    I'm tired of special interest groups who focus only on their cause without looking at the bigger picture, because when HRC endorsed Smith, Smith wore the endorsement like a gold medal for urban voters, but hid it in rural Oregon.

    Groups like HRC and NARAL need to get a grip. They do more harm to progressive/grassroots movement politics, than good.

  • (Show?)

    I don't think Smith is beatable. Kitzhaber doesn't have the stomach for the race or would have taken him on last time. De Fazio won't win enough votes outside of the Portland and Eugene metro areas, and will probably lose the Clackamas and Washington County suburbs.

    Smith has been very successful in portraying himself as a Republican moderate (I know that phrase may irk many here, but he has positioned himself as an important swing vote on a number of issues), and has gotten the requisite number of case-work credits to his name.

  • (Show?)

    Back in June, I wrote a letter to Smith about Karl Rove's comments in which he said liberals wanted to endanger troops and give therapy to terrorists.

    On 1 Aug, I got a letter containing this response (emphasis added):

    I noted your specific concerns regarding comments allegedly made by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.

    The letter is dated 14 July. News reports from as far back as 23 June carried video of Rove saying exactly what news accounts reported. It sort of makes you wonder how connected to reality he is.

  • djk (unverified)

    Smith is beatable. According to the above post, his approval numbers right now are higher in Portland (54%) than the rest of the state (49%). Those numbers will be different in 2008, but higher or lower? Who knows? Will he have progressive cover (endorsements from Elizabeth Furse or HRC) next time around? Maybe not. Will the national Democratic party decide the race is unwinnable and sit it out again? Hopefully not.

    DeFazio may have the advantage of incumbency, but he couldn't have fended off multiple Republican challengers in the Fourth District without knowing how to talk to suburbanites, farmers, timber workers, and other stereotypically "red" constituents.

    We have other Democrats who have won statewide office more than once. Hardy Myers and Bill Bradbury both spring to mind. I wouldn't write off either of them as challengers.

    Yes, Bradbury got his butt kicked by Smith last time around, but there were circumstances. (1) He got a really late start, waiting until the last minute for Kitzhaber to make up his mind. (2) As a consequence, he was underfunded -- I think Smith outspent him about 4 to 1. (3) In 2002, Republicans picked up seats across the country riding on Bush's bogus "hero of 9/11" coattails -- an effect most likely unavailable in 2008.

    Hardy Myers beat Kevin Mannix (the man who almost won the governor's race in 2002). Beating challenger "right wing whacko" Mannix doesn't necessarily mean you could beat incumbent "sober moderate" Smith, but I wouldn't count Myers out. He does have the chops to beat a well-funded opponent with high name recognition.

  • (Show?)

    I wonder about the poll, because the partisan demographics don't seem to fit. This poll had 34 percent indy, 33 percent GOP and 32 percent Democratic. That doesn't reflect our voting electorate in Oregon. Actually, the indies would be approximately half that percentage, and there would be slightly more Democrats voting than Republicans.

  • LT (unverified)

    That doesn't reflect our voting electorate in Oregon.

    Wayne, I wonder where you get the voting numbers--exit polls? The last registration I saw had Democrats maybe 3% above Republicans and those who register outside a major party as about 1/4.

    Seems to me the goal should be to get those folks to vote. I recall a parking lot conversation in Jan. 1996 with a young co-worker who thought both Wyden and Smith had been too negative-- "what do you want that nasty guy's bumper sticker on your car for?". When I told him I'd known Ron since 1984, he said "well, if he is a friend I can see why you'd have his bumper sticker", but he wasn't sure it was worth returning his ballot since he wasn't thrilled about any of the choices.

    Try as statisticians might, there is no way they can measure sentiments like that unless he was one of the people polled and questions got him to open up about his attitude.

  • (Show?)

    According to the Elections Division, 40 percent of the voters in the last election here were Democrats, 37 percent were Republican, and 20 percent were indies. That differs from the registration figures because indy voters don't vote in as high a percentage as Ds and Rs.

    That means the poll was low on Democrats by eight points, low on Republicans by three, and high on indies by 14.

  • Doran (unverified)

    Kitzhaber, all the way. He'd demolish Smith.

    I had a chance to talk to him about this topic point blank several months ago, and he expressed some interest in the idea. And it's well known that he didn't run last time for family reasons, but his son is and will be significantly older in 2008.

  • DeAnn (unverified)

    I think the problem for Smith is that he is too liberal for the Republicans who voted him in. I sure hope he's not beatable.

  • (Show?)

    I think the key to beating Smith, like winning most statewide races in Oregon, is forcing the Republican to either embrace his or her conservative base - thereby tanking support among the swing areas of the I-5 corridor - or, to force that candidate to renounce the base cooling support among the GOP strongholds in the state.

    Smith was incredibly effective in 2002 in taking moderate stands on certain issues that played well in the greater Portland area, while running a distinctly more conservative message in Eastern and Southern Oregon. His symbolic stand against Medicaid cuts early this year may serve a similar purpose. It willbe largely irrelevant to the vitality of the program (much like his support for GLBT hate crimes legislation will have zero impact on its eventual passage through a GOP-controlled Congress), but he looks like he is standing up to the hard-hearted national GOP leadership. These efforts can backfire; Smith was caught in the 96 special trying to have it both ways when he distanced himself from Lon Mabon and then gave a nod to the OCA endorsement in selected appearances in Eastern Oregon.

    Finally, I agree with Sid that national groups looking to branch out to support moderate Rs must have their feet held to the fire. HRC and other organizations should be told strongly and unequivocally that their interventions into local politics to serve their national interests over our own are unwelcome and will not be forgotten.

    Of course 2008 will likely be a contention presidential cycle, which will make it harder to make Smith the central issue on the ballot. How he compares (or compares himself) to the Republican at the top of the ticket will make a substantial difference in how Dems can frame him. And that wild card will likely be a major factor in Democrats' chances.

open discussion

connect with blueoregon