Gordon Smith in Sizemore's Crosshairs

Jeff Alworth

Pity poor Bill Sizemore, and then thank him.  He created a stir in the blogosphere with a posting last week about Gordon Smith's myriad crimes against conservatism.  The article was posted at NW Republican under the title "The Case against Senator Smith" (a title that perhaps intentionally recalled Steve Novick's Willamette Week article).  It is a strange and poignant piece in which Sizemore spends four paragraphs rehashing a lost battle to Smith from the mid-90s over light rail (which in turn reminds one of Sizemore's own hapless instincts in elective politics).  It's an awkwardly personal attack, with all the usual hallmarks of Sizemorian hyperbole:

Gordon Smith recently stood proudly alongside Oregon’s liberal Democrat governor endorsing a huge increase in the state cigarette tax to fund more government health care. Since when is socialistic, government run health care a Republican mantra? Sure, such programs pull at the heart strings, but where do they ultimately lead us...?

At the national level, Democrats are licking their chops at the prospect of defeating Gordon Smith. After all he has done for liberals in Oregon, they still want to take him out, simply because he is a Republican. To them, a Republican in name only is still a Republican. Smith’s political vulnerability is no secret.

It doesn't bear going too deeply into the article--Becky at Preemptive Karma has a nice parsing, if you're in the mood.  Instead, it's the upshot and its implication that are interesting.  Sizemore whinges and moans about Smith's American Conservative Union rating of 58% in 2005 and creaks laboriously to his point:

I, for one, am convinced that there has to be a better choice. The Republican primary is after all still a year away.

The arguments Sizemore lays out may seem petty and overblown, but at their heart, they reveal a weakness Smith confronts from movement conservatives.  Polished up, Sizemore's complaints could be used effectively against Smith in a primary challenge--or even more dangerously, as a third-party attack in the general.  Despite the dire odds Republicans confront in '08, this isn't far-fetched.  As Kari has already noted, the Club for Growth, a conservative group that targets moderate Republicans with attacks from the right, recently set up shop in Oregon.  Kari documented the millions Club for Growth has spent in primary challenges and their ire against the Republican Main Street Partnership, of which Smith is a member.

In comments at NW Republican, Sizemore claims he's not planning to run against Smith (Bill, modestly: "I have the guts to challenge Smith myself, but I don't think I could raise the kind of money it would take to take"), analysis Randy Stapilus agrees with: "[the article] could be picked up by whoever runs against Smith (who we suspect won’t be Sizemore)."  But whether it's Sizemore or another disaffected Republican, the far right appears to have a bead on Gordon Smith.

Update: McJoan has this story front-paged at DailyKos now, too.


  • RKM (unverified)

    The trouble here is that any attack on Senator Smith by the Visigoths on the right will serve to paint him as the moderate he tries to convince everyone he is. Let’s hope this right-wing putsch succeeds in either alienating conservative voters toward Smith to the extent that they stay home in November ’08, or that it actually succeeds in ousting Smith in the primary (unlikely) in which case a full-fledged, howling-at-the-moon, conservative loon runs in the general and gets greased by the Dem.

  • (Show?)

    Any thoughts about who might take him on?

  • jay wells (unverified)

    Ron Saxton: most likely to carry both sides of GOP into the general.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    How is Mannix looking? Is he politically done? He's got plenty of money last I heard. I'm not exactly sure how he and Gordo feel about each other but Mannix is dirty enough to do some lasting damage to Gordo.

  • Chris Snethen (unverified)

    Any thoughts about who might take him on?

    Could Jason Atkinson be talked out of running for SoS and run for Senate instead?

  • jay wells (unverified)

    Both Mannix and Saxton have made nice recently with the Mitt Romney team. Portland Mercury (4/25) (Which may raise a few Mormon eyebrows.) Does anyone think that Mitt's stumping helped Ron in the Gov race?

    And Saxton is no RINO according to professional rino-watchers. But maybe Ron's happy taking out the garbage for Jeld-Wen...

  • (Show?)

    Even though I posted this piece, I have to say that I'm somewhat skeptical that a top-tier candidate is going to step forward to challenge Smith. Mannix has been beaten so many times in statewide elections that tilting at this windmill just looks masochistic. Saxton won't be able to run to the right of Smith, and the doom of failure hangs over his head. Atkinson seems more likely, but if he has serious political designs, running against Smith seems ill-advised.

    It seems more likely that a fringe candidate will run in the general, ala Mary Starrett. That also seems quixotic, but fringe candidates usually are.

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    You're dreaming if you think any strong Republican challenger is going to take on Gordon in the primary. It certainly will not be Saxton or Mannix. Any remote hope such a candidate would have of winning the primary would come at the expense of becoming unelectable in the general.

    RKM had it right; a token conservative challenger to Gordon in the primary (such as Lon Mabon in 1996) simply bolsters Gordon's bona fides as a moderate in the general election. Then once the Democratic nominee starts blasting Gordon for being too conservative, Gordon's hold on the center--and on the election--will be sealed.

    In the end, the reason Oregonians have chosen Smith and Wyden to represent them is that they, in fact, represent them.

  • Chris Matson (unverified)

    Fringe right/left chest-thumping aside, unless either one gets his hand caught in the proverbial cookie jar, Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith will be our Senators until they decide to retire.

    I'll put cash on that one.

    Both control the center, which is made up predominately of disenfranchised Centrist Democrats (with a sizeable chunk of formerly progressive Republicans). Both speak to their issues and concerns. And like it or not (and despite neo-con/neo-prog rhetoric to the contrary), it is the center that determines who our Senators will be.

    Wyden and Smith are both centrists. You can tell...neither one is liked by the fringe from either party, but both sides know it would be political suicide not to nominate them within your own party.

    The only reason why the GOP can't get a grip on any statewide offices is that they keep nominating whack-jobs from the fringe. When the GOP finally figures that one out and breaks the death-grip of the neo-conservative gas-bags, god help the People's Progressive Party of Portland (aka Democratic Party of Oregon).

    The politics of the neo-extremists. Gotta love it.

  • (Show?)

    Saxton disproved the "non-wingnuts can win" theory last year, didn't he?

    I also dispute that Wyden is disliked by "the fringe." According to the last SUSA poll, liberals gave Wyden a 63% approval; conservatives gave Smith 57%. Cons gave Wyden a 49% while Libs gave Smith 42%, and moderates gave Wyden 67% and Smith 54%.

    What that tells me is that liberals like Wyden appreciably better than conservatives like Smith...but most notably, "centrists" are crazy about Wyden, but only slightly favorable towards Smith.

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    I hate Republicans (Better Red than Dead, . . .Better Dead than Republican) but if the Republicans gave me "wizard power" for 5 minutes I could guarantee their victory in future Oregon state races . . .

    Don't mention the word "abortion" or variations thereof Don't mention the word "gay" or variations thereof Don't mention the word "marriage" or variations thereof Don't mention the word "christian" or variations thereof Don't mention the word "immigration" or variations thereof Don't mention the word "Lars" or variations thereof

    With the above tips plus the elimination of the usual wack jobs and Klan members, I think the Oregon Repubs could do fairly well in the next 4 election cycles. Fortunately, they won't take my advice.

  • Becky (unverified)

    BlueNote's advice would restrict Oregon Republicans to talking about taxes and only taxes. So we're back to Bill Sizemore. Fortunately, he won't take your advice, either.

  • Chris Matson (unverified)

    Let's see now.

    You are correct that Saxon was one of the first non-wing-nuts that the GOP ran in, oh, a long, long time. However, Saxton, a Portland Republican, ran against incumbent Kulongoski, a downstate Democrat (by way of Portland & Salem).

    Hmmm, wonder who controlled the center there.

    But then Kulongoski was quite vocally and quite publically attacked by the fringe left, led by Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson (who in the end only mustered 12% of the Democratic vote and thus defined the true and pathetic extent of the neo-progressive influence on voting Democrats throughout Oregon). Yet dispite the blitherings of the fringe left, Kulongoski never surrendered control of the center, and it was centrist voters who overwhelmingly returned him to office, neo-progressive chest-thumping aside.

    As for polling numbers, well, the only one that counts is the one on election day. The rest are irrelavent (and quite often wrong...usually because people often read them wrong).

    As for those election statistics, best remember the ratio of three to two. Why is that important? It is the ration that Smith beat our best, well-known and respected by urban and rural Democratic candidate the last time he ran for re-election in the 2002 General Election...Bill Bradbury.

    And that was with both Lon Mabon and a Libertarian running on the ticket. Not exactly our finest hour.

    In fact, the only Democrat who has managed to beat Smith for the US Senate to date just happens to be our other Senator...Ron Wyden. And that was well over a decade ago.

    And yes, it comes as no suprise that Wyden is well liked by Centrist voters. After all, he's had to face such powerhouse GOP candidates as Al King and John Lim. I'm suprised his numbers aren't a lot higher.

    Still, everytime Wyden speaks in Eugene, there seems to be a large contingent of left-wing-nuts who manage to stage some sit-in or some screaming match or some black-robed protest that he's just not "progressive" enough for their tastes (despite his work on holding oil companies, big tobacco and war profiteers accountable). I've heard the same for Portland.

    I noticed that the far right doesn't come a protestin' when Smith shows up. Pretty much anywhere.

    Yes, it is easy to get suckered into the false security that was last election (no right-wingers were removed from office...see Wayne Scott/Dennis Richardson). And certainly the prospect of DC Hacks coming to Podunk OR to run their brand of muddy and obscenely expensive Senatorial campaigns is sexy as hell to those in the People's Progressive Party. But being the gambler that I am nothing speaks like cash on the barrel...and my bet that Smith and Wyden will hold their seats until they retire still stands.

    Do not let a failed first battle by the GOP cloud your mind into thinking that winning the war to come will be easy. That, to paraphraise Sun Tzu, would be a "fatal mistake."

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    Do not let a failed first battle by the GOP cloud your mind into thinking that winning the war to come will be easy. That, to paraphraise Sun Tzu, would be a "fatal mistake."

    When did I ever say any of that? You offered two hypotheses, both of which I gave countervailing evidence to, suggesting I reject sound scientific, repeatable polling figures in favor of your assessment of who shows up to their respective events. (When was the last time anyone not coming with money was able to "see" Gordo?)

    Smith has only run in one re-election, so excuse me if I don't bow before the track record. These are bad times for Republicans, his numbers are weak if not bad this far out, and we're definitely in a change environment. The legislature is a different game from statewide offices--you don't get to run just in Roseburg or Baker City.

    Will he be beaten? Can't say yet. Is he vulnerable? Definitely.

  • RKM (unverified)

    A Starrett Scenario in the general is tasty. And if she’s runs (Go, Mary, Go) Smith will be toast because he’s tried to position himself in the middle, and the loony right would fall all over themselves in a mad-lemming tear for the cliff (ideologues make a fetish of self-immolation).

    Smith votes with Bush, what, .87% of the time or some such, and even that’s not good enough for Oregon’s cons. You gotta feel sorry for Smith: if he even sniffs the political middle, the right bolts, and if he moves to placate the whiners in the con base, -- goodbye Senate.

    Oh, well – such is life as the Left Coast’s last remaining Republican Senator.

  • Curt (unverified)

    "You are correct that Saxon was one of the first non-wing-nuts that the GOP ran in, oh, a long, long time."

    Eh? Of course Saxton's a wingnut. What are you on about? Wasn't he going to fire all the state troopers and then rehire them at lower wages, or something?

    I can't recall a Republican that's run for major office recently, in fact, that hasn't been a bona fide wingnut whack job. Sad, but.. true.


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