[Editor's note: Today, Jon Isaacs joins BlueOregon as a regular contributor. In 2006, Jon led the Oregon House Democrats to their first majority in 16 years. Now, he's the vice president of the Compass Media Group, a political consulting firm.]
Gordon Smith should be defeated in 2008.
Despite what the editorial board of Oregon's largest newspaper goes out of its way to persuade Oregonians to believe, Gordon Smith is a far right Republican with a clear record of supporting the George Bush agenda close to 100% of the time.
Many great BlueOregon posts have been made recently outlining Smith's record - most recently and notably by Steve Novick. I will leave the job of dissecting and exposing Smith's real record to others, but the point is that there is a treasure trove of material for the Democratic challenger to run on. Gordon Smith should be defeated in 2008.
The one thing I will give Gordon Smith is that he is a very skilled politician. He has run some of the best and most ruthless campaigns Oregon has ever seen. Will anyone ever forget the ads with the tag line "Ron Wyden – A Desperate Politician Oregonians Can't Trust?" or the ferocious attacks on Bill Bradbury in 2002? I'm sure he's assuming he can just pull off the same election-year conversions he did last time around and cruise to re-election through a well-run, well-funded campaign.
In my view, there are four keys to defeating Gordon Smith in 2008:
1. We don't necessarily need a "big name", but we absolutely need a candidate in the race early.
In 2001, we all waited and waited to find out if John Kitzhaber would run against Smith while every other potential candidate deferred to him. Kitzhaber didn't make up his mind until after Labor Day when he announced that we not running. As a result, Bill Bradbury didn't have a campaign up and running until the middle of October. According the latest FEC filings, Gordon Smith has over $2 million cash on hand. By the end of the first quarter of 2007 expect Smith to have over $2.5 million. We can't expect a challenger to raise the funds necessary to defeat Smith if they can't get started raising money until the end of this year. We need our "big names" to announce their intentions early in order to give our eventual candidate(s) the opportunity to build a strong campaign – primarily the time to fundraise.
2. This campaign is first and foremost about Gordon Smith. We need a candidate who will aggressively criticize Smith's record first and talk about themselves second.
Wimps need not apply. We need a candidate who is prepared to run a tough campaign that galvanizes popular opposition to Smith's record. This is also another reason #1 is so important. If we have an announced challenger in early 2007, it will be much more difficult for Smith to pull off some of his patented switcheroos where he suddenly reverses course and votes with the Democrats on several issues (all of which will be lauded as gigantic acts of courage by the editorial board of Oregon's largest newspaper). This will also take the funds necessary to communicate Smith's record effectively to voters. Also remember, Smith's primary campaign tactic is go negative early and often. We need a candidate who can take the hits and keep his/her campaign on track.
3. Progressive advocacy groups need to get behind the Democratic challenger early.
In 2002, several key partners in the progressive coalition held out their support for Bradbury in order to get a vote or votes from Smith – most of which he gladly delivered. What's done is done, but this should not be acceptable in 2008 and we should point out when and who is using our candidate as a bargaining chip.
4. The Democratic candidate must engage the netroots.
I believe the 2008 Oregon US Senate race is could become the top netroots campaign in the nation. Our own BlueOregon, Loaded Orygun, and the other great progressive blogs in Oregon can and should be in right in the middle of it. The people-powered grassroots campaigns advocated by the netroots are ideal in Oregon. Just look at the most notable Democratic victories in Oregon over the past two election cycles and you will notice the one constant is that they all put a high value on grassroots organizing. Yet since the emergence of the netroots as a real political force, we haven't had a high profile federal race in Oregon that engages the national netroots community. This is the time for it to happen. Our candidate must understand the opportunity for their campaign and take the steps necessary to get the netroots invested in their campaign.