Think again: Rural Oregon is up for grabs.

By Paulie Brading of Medford, Oregon. Paulie is the chair of the Jackson County Democratic Party. Previously, she contributed "How BlueOregon encouraged me to stop blogging, and start working."

Attatuck from Time’s Swampland blog is one of the snarkiest men on the internet and recently shared his thoughts regarding the often mentioned rural vs. urban divide.

“Some of us rural folk are intelligent, inclusive, law-abiding egalitarians and patriots who think the constitution and the rule of law ought to come ahead of cronyism. That goes for those with and without a college degree, with and without a NASCAR favorite, with and without Granny Verta’s pimento cheese spread recipe, definitely all with more common sense. Take a page from Dr. King and RFK’s books and stop playing divide and cracker.”

Mr. Attatuck’s comments got me thinking about why regionalism and narrowness must come to an end and soon. We must forge successful alliances between progressives and the normally conservative ranchers and hunters over a number of environmental issues. Confrontations over logging in national forests and concern over the environment must move toward sustainable forest management that relies on science-based forest management and make a difference in Oregon’s economic future. Excluding working class and rural voters just isn’t smart politics.

A recent poll caught my eye because it noted rural America is no longer reliably Republican. In a poll commissioned by the non-partisan Center for Rural Strategies they found 46% of likely rural voters said they preferred an unnamed Democratic candidate for president, while 43% favored a generic Republican. That is a complete reversal from earlier surveys of rural voters and a steep plunge in Republican support.

While many in the insulated mostly-blue areas of our state still think rural Oregonians still gather at buffets eating tuna-macaroni salad served in a kiddie wading pool or we are too busy marrying our cousins, think again. Campaign strategists, Democratic County organizations, and the Democratic Party of Oregon have an opportunity to remind the citizens of Oregon that Republicans set their own bear trap and now, legs caught firmly in the spring, have ignored the horrifying consequences of fighting two wars in the Middle East.

The U.S. has spent a trillion dollars on these wars while throttling every state in the union’s economy. There is no longer reliable funding for our communities, for the National Guard, health care, housing, education, roads, transportation and social services. Get up out of your lawn chairs people, work together and elect Democrats no matter where you live in Oregon. I’ll be at the buffet table getting a second helping of tuna-macaroni salad with a side of lime jello.

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    Wow, simultaneous posting on the same topic. I'll pull my post off and put it here as a comment. Thanks, Paulie!

    For those of us who read polls like tea leaves, hoping to discern a pattern that will give us insight into what Americans will do in the next election, the recent Rural America poll sponsored by NPR was a shocker. Generally, reading polls is like reading tea leaves--and about as accurate. You may be able to perceive opinion trends, but how these correlate to what people do in the election booth, that's an iffier prospect. But this latest poll is dramatically at odds with conventional wisdom that it looks like it may actually mean something.

    Forty-six percent of the survey respondents indicated they'd vote for an un-named Democratic candidate for president if the election were held today; 43 percent favored a Republican.... The numbers reflect a plunge in Republican support among rural voters. Exit polls from the 2000 presidential election had Republican George Bush beating Democrat Al Gore by 22 per cent in rural areas. In 2004, the actual vote tally showed President Bush outpolling his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, by 19 percent among rural voters.

    NPR credits the war in Iraq as the main cause for the shift, and it's clearly a factor; they note that "three-fourths of those surveyed know someone who is serving or has served in the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan." But digging a little deeper, I notice a trend that should be a lot more alarming for Republicans. When compared with average Americans, rural voters feel far less prosperous and see themselves as having far worse prospects in the future.

    Pollsters asked respondents to describe whether certain words applied to rural America and then whether it applied to the country as a whole. Seventy percent believed "prosperous" applied to the country, but only 42% thought it applied to rural America. Similarly, 64% thought "increasing opportunity" applied to the country, but only 39% to rural America.

    More predictably, they believed rural America was more strongly oriented toward "traditional values" (80%-56%) and "strong family values" (85%-62%) than the country as a whole. These are the elements the GOP has highlighted for decades, but it apparently they are no longer enough to keep rural voters reliably loyal.

    There are three statewide races in '08 (attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer), in addition to Gordon Smith's Senate seat. Conventional wisdom holds that it's the swing districts in Clackamas and Washington County where the real race is. But this assumes that Republicans have the rural districts sewn up. Perhaps that assumption isn't accurate.

    Historically, Democrats did a lot better in rural America exactly because they focused on economic fairness issues. We don't know whether these results would be mirrored in Oregon. (Western politics tend not to line up like rural/urban politics of the South and NE.) And yet, the economic concerns are surely as dire in rural Oregon. So, could we be at one of those historic moments when traditional political coalitions collapse and regroup? Maybe the polls are telling us something. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on in 2008.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thanks, Paulie!

    This should be a warning to all those who claim to "know" how to run elections (in any party) but have offended activists in rural counties with a "Portland knows all" or "we know that group of people never votes, so why bother with them" attitude.

    And before Kari says this is a "rant", a legislative staffer from Portland said those things to my face not that many weeks ago.

    There are ways to reach folks who don't live in Metropolitan Portland which fall under the statement "stop blogging and start working". If you hear a candidate will be speaking locally, invite a young person you know. Even if their schedule is too full (work or whatever) they have then heard the candidate's name.

    Talk with any campaign/ potential candidate you know about the importance of small ads in rural papers of any kind (newspapers don't have to print letters to the editor they disagree with, but how expensive is a small ad in a small town paper?).

    Advocate for better treatment of veterans. Next time you see any casualty lists from Iraq/ Afghanistan, notice how many small towns are listed as opposed to big cities.

    And part of this is just plain common sense. Cong. Walz of the National Guard did not defeat a Republican member of Congress because he used language that would suit activist Democrats or fulfil any particular agenda. He did it by plain talk to the small town folks he knew (being in the National Guard himself didn't hurt). As many of us learned years ago, if a campaign comes to a coffee/ house party and the host says "please avoid this hot topic because one of our guests came but feels very strongly about that issue and it isn't wise to alienate such a person", then make sure the candidate either avoids the topic or has a diplomatic way of answering.

    Great message, Paulie. Some of us have been trying to say for a while now that there are swing voters in the most unlikely places (the number of Bush/ Hooley voters some of us knew in 2004 is one indication).

  • LiberalIncarnate (unverified)

    While I strongly support seeking out common ground with rural Americans, I have my doubts over whether they will truly vote Democratic in the next election. "Gays, Guns and God."... Seems to herd rural Americans back to voting against their economic self-interests.

    "Fear will keep the local systems in line... fear of this Battlestation."- Darth Vadar (the ultimate Republican)

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    LT, it's not that I disagree with you. I don't. It's that you're a broken record. You have about six comments, and you just recycle them ad nauseum.

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    "While many in the insulated mostly-blue areas of our state still think rural Oregonians still gather at buffets eating tuna-macaroni salad served in a kiddie wading pool or we are too busy marrying our cousins, think again."

    Why are people always insisting that constantly lampooning rural Oregonians as bumpkins is a significant attribute or pasttime of people in the blue parts of the state?

    I live in Portland. In the time I have lived in Oregon, I have gone to many other places in Oregon. I go to these places to explore and have fun, not as some anthropological mission. In contrast to how "many" in the blue parts of Oregon are depicted by those in the less blue parts, I have never met anyone in Portland who said, "why don't we go to the Sizzler in Grants Pass this weekend and observe the locals engaging in their mystical rituals before consuming massive quantities of creamed corn?" I think of the rural parts of Oregon as, well, rural, not some strange and foreign place where everyone is a caricature of a slackjawed yokel from Tuscaloosa.

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    There are so many obstacles for Democrats in rural Oregon. First there's the media. All the Newspapers endorse Republicans as reflex. When I agree with an editorial in the Bend Bulletin I start question my sanity. Where as my thinking gone wrong? Truth be known I usually agree with them on local issues except when they come up with a stinker like their support for destination resorts near the Metolious. All the talk radio in Central Oregon are Right Wing. The only way to listen to Air America is to stream it over the internet. Second the Republicans run everything. Since they control the County Commission almost all appointees to Boards and Commissions are Republicans. I'm sure most Chamber of Commerces even in progressive communities are majority Republican, but if you want to see a fish out of water watch a Progressive Democrat at a Central Oregon Chamber Event. Don't get me wrong I do believe these obstacles can be overcome, but it is not going to happen in one or two elections cycles. The problem is finding dedicated folks with the staying power to keep up the battle for 3, 4, or 5 election cycles. Sometimes it seems after every election we have start all over again from scratch.

  • Chris from Portland (unverified)

    I like progressive ideas as much as the next guy but I've lived in both rural and urban areas of this state my entire life and there is a divide. Ignoring that is simply naive. That said, if it's realistic to start bridge that cap in the year 2007 I'm all for it. In my opinion it's going to take another decade or so for things to be at a point where that can begin to happen. And before we blame Portland for all this, understand that there is just as much resentment coming from the rurals to the urbans, if not more.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    But this assumes that Republicans have the rural districts sewn up.

    As Phil Philiben explained the Republicans do have the rural districts sewn up. If Jesus Christ came back and ran against Walden in the 2nd Congressional District on a platform of health care for all and an end to poverty he would be written off as a socialist or communist and would be lucky to get 10% of the vote, even with all the holy rollers east of the Cascades.

    It is, of course, wrong and intellectually dishonest to write all rural residents off as country bumpkins or ascribe some other characteristic to all of them, but they do live in a different environment from people in the Portland metro area and, as a consequence, many have different attitudes and priorities. That means sometimes one group makes more sense while in other instances the other group gets it right. I've known a couple of ex-ranchers who don't care for Walden's pro-war positions but because he did the right thing by them when they were ranching they still vote for him. In other ways, they are as nice people as you could want.

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    I grew up in Grants Pass and then spent most of my professional life in Portland Metro and the East coast. Back again in Southern Oregon with a fresh perspective on my good ol' rural home base. My take is we are not that different from one another, we just think we are.


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    Bill, your analysis shows that you don't know who lives East of the cascades. "Rural Oregon" isn't a singular place. People are far more religious in Southern Oregon than in Eastern O--where my mostly-irreligious family lives. Eastern Oregon is a more hardscrabble libertarian place.

    Keep in mind that in a statewide race you don't have to win Malheur County--but it's gravy if a Dem can get 40% of the split instead of 25%. Erosion in the support for Republicans in rural counties means they need to pick it up in suburban or urban districts. An increasingly unlikely prospect in the age of GOP blowback.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    I agree with Paulie, as I usually do. Further, the only place left for substantial Dem gains is small town Oregon. Phil is right, too. In order to make gains, we need to look long term. We need to put resources into candidates who won't win this time but might the next -- or the time after that.

  • Steve Bucknum (unverified)

    Thanks for this post Paulie!

    Those of us that have been to the County Fairs, stopped and talked to our neighbors at the Post Office and store, and are involved in our rural communities do not find the NPR survey at all odd or out there. I welcome this survey, because finally those of us working in rural areas just might get taken seriously. (I refrain from a rant that starts our, "I told you so two years ago.")

    Steve Davis writes, "Why are people always insisting that constantly lampooning rural Oregonians as bumpkins is a significant attribute or pasttime of people in the blue parts of the state?" -- Well Steve, I frequently read it here at Blue Oregon . . . .

    As for Phil Philiben's comments, as usual Phil is right and wrong at the same time. Sure all those things are true, some exaggerated, but they are not huge barriers. Our rural people in Oregon hold many progressive beliefs. The key is finding those levers and using them even through the haze of Republican owned media (and by the way, I was in Phil's town - Bend - this morning, and got Portlands KPOJ/Air America on my car radio). Let me suggest that we progressives have a good track record now as fiscal conservatives who make wise use of tax dollars. Let me suggest that everyday when we step out of our houses, we enjoy the clean fresh air we find living where we do - and are natural environmentalists. Let me remind others that it is NOT rural Oregon that passed Measure 5 and set the stage for our horrible State budget situation year after year - it was urban Oregon.

    I grew up in Portland, but have lived well over half of my life in rural areas. I don't find the average person here in rural Oregon all that much different than the average person in the urban areas. Where the rural / urban divide comes is in the naked use of power to spill public and private resources into urban areas having taken them from rural areas (whether real or perceived). But in terms of how people will vote - rural people will vote Republican only in their own self interest. At times, being anti-urban is in their own self interest, and as we are continually reminded, urban Oregon votes Democratic. But increasingly, beyond that noise of urban vs. rural, average people here are noting that their self interests lie in other areas: keeping safe from Republican wars that take and kill our children; keeping our local schools open when Republican budgets send all the money to the wealthy; keeping our roads and government services working when the Republicans at the national level cut our funding; etc.

    Slowly rural Oregon has woken up to a world where their perceived friend (the Republicans) turned out to be so pro-corporation that they have stabbed rural people in the back. The Republicans got to their position of rural power on the back of issues like the Spotted Owl and being pro-farmer, and they are losing their rural power by defunding everything in sight. Even anti-government activitists like to go to their meetings on roads without pot holes.

    Having promised not to rant, I stop here.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Bill, your analysis shows that you don't know who lives East of the cascades. "Rural Oregon" isn't a singular place.

    First of all, I live east of the Cascades and have a good idea what others are like over here. I've learned to be careful when talking about the environment. Some, not all, people are instantly hostile to anyone they perceive as a "tree-hugger." I don't believe I would need to be as cautious as, say, in Eugene. On the other hand I have made a variety of public statements on the war and other subjects that have received general acceptance but, again, not by all.

    Second, I made it clear (or thought I did) you can't ascribe one particular characteristic to all of the people here (or elsewhere). Third, voting patterns show there is a preponderance of certain characteristics and attitudes in some districts that are different in others. Peter Buckley was trounced when he ran against Greg Walden in the 2nd Congressional District but got a majority in Medford.

    It's a nice sentiment but like most (not all) sentiments it is nonsense to say we are all the same. There are some qualities that most of us share in common, but there are others that are in conflict. Geography and environment contribute to this condition with some (but not all) people, but other factors also come into play. If we were all the same, we would all be Democrats, Republicans, Independents, progressive, conservative, Christians, atheists or something else.

    One of the encouraging qualities I have noted in this area is the acceptance of gays and non-whites by many (that is, unfortunately, not all) young people. The former stands in sharp contrast to the sizable majority (that is, most but not all) of voters in the older generations who voted against gays in Measure 36. Another factor to consider is the in-migration of people with "liberal/progressive" ideas from other states which will change voting patterns.

  • paul spencer (unverified)

    I live in Stevenson, WA - obviously not OR, but substantially rural NW. Last November, we voted majority Democratic Party in partisan elections. We also voted majority in favor of our statewide initiative I-937, which mandated certain goals for use of new, renewable energy sources. This is a change.

    I am active in the Democratic Party in my county. And I have been active in many of the economic/social changes that have occurred here in the last 27 years. I am known as a radical leftist, but it doesn't really seem to bother too many people here. I know for a fact that some of my published views have contributed to some of the changes here.

    So - here's a few tips about the history of this region that may suggest some improvements in our standing in the rural NW. First, the 1994 Congressional elections were due largely to the arrogance of Democratic Party officials and of Protectionist-type Environmentalists. The sudden curtailment of logging in our county due to the Spotted Owl issue was devastating to working peoples' wages here, not to mention school and local government funding. (I fully realize that there was a severe lumber market turndown at that time, plus the old mills that could handle old-growth logs were dilapidated, but the environmental issues were the News of the day.) Then, right behind that came the Scenic Area legislation, opposed by 90% of the population of this county. This county turned 80% Republican overnight.

    This brings me to Point number 2 - the Republicans were able to frame these issues as the Democratic Party's urban-base's priorities; and then the Demos proved the point by ignoring us. Democratic governors of WA appointed preservationists to the Gorge Commission. It took years of sustained - and I might say, valiant - resistance on the part of our county - and of Klickitat County - to forge some kind of compromise that allowed us to live some semblance of our normal lives in our own homes.

    Folks - you just can't do those things nor be that way, if you expect people to listen to you on other issues. Now we're still out here, and with all of the "help" that we're getting from the current regime in WA DC (the other Washington), we are making progress in re-establishing the Democratic Party as the party of the people. And it hasn't hurt that the national Demos have been somewhat humbled. But the point is that this will work out well for all of us, if y'all will factor our needs into the equation to some degree.

    What do we need in our type of area? Here's a start: 1) a resumption of a reasonable level of logging on federal forest lands (as Paulie says above, guided by forestry science - as well as by local interests, and largely exclusive of true old-growth preserves); 2) some tipping of the political scale toward individuals' property rights (though with strong enforcement of environmental rules); and 3) fair trade, not "free" trade. Just a start, mind you.

    Third and last point - Phil says above that the Republicans run everything in the rural counties. Not quite true, but close enough. The solution is simple, and it's gaining ground in my county. We rural Democrats have to find people to run for and volunteer for all of those little piddly-ass positions on the City Council, the Planning Commission, the Water Board, the whatever. Most times you don't have to defend yourself against Swift-Boaters or sling mud at your opponent. You just have to be available and not take a turn-down personally. Eventually, you'll be on a Board or a Commission, and you'll be recognized for it. (Some of these slots will take their fair share of abuse, so it's probably best to recruit the cooler heads.) The point is that persistence alone - and patience at all levels - will change the ratio.

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    I couldn't agree with you more! Well said. I look forward to the day when folks in the NW realize we can have sustainable forest management that protects watersheds, wildlife habitat and provides for communties, all at the same time.

    The Bureau of Land Management(BLM) will be considering new forest management options in Western Oregon. I'm hoping for lots of public input and idea sharing on a variety of alternatives. Call me a dreamer but I think we can help Oregon's economic future and the health of our public forest lands.

    My comments are not meant as a siren call from exteme environmentalists to comment. Seen it, heard it, studied it. I grew up in the woods.

  • mbraymen (unverified)

    I want to second the comment about getting Democrats to volunteer for "those little piddly-ass positions". If i remember correctly when I was appointed to the city budget board, there were two applications for three positions. Breathing and willingness to serve seemed to be the major qualifications. I now know a lot more about how the city is run and believe that experiance will be an advantage if/when I ever decide to run for city council.

    Another point I'd like to make is that things change and what is now is not necessarily what will be. From the Democrat-Herald, Jan. 6, 1956: "There were 7,137 registered voters in Baker County at the first of the year... The total included 4,161 Democrats, 2,779 Republicans and 97 miscellaneous."

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    Progressive Majority doesn't have a strong base in Oregon, but their Washington chapter kicks ass. They've been running progressive Democrats in all those piddly races, and their success rate is very good. It is a conscious attempt to build both a farm team and a visible Democratic presence to give all kinds of voters an empirical example of how Democratic governance CAN work.

    It would be swell to have them set up shop here, it would.

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    As far as the God, gays, and guns thing goes...

    People can get involved in the Gun Owners Caucus at the party or the Faith Caucus. It's a perception that's been built by the Republicans and repeated by the media that dems are against God and guns. While some may, it's definitely not true of all Dems.

    There's also the rural caucus.

    These caucuses can do a lot to affect the party's positions and platform, their outlook towards candidates, etc.

    If we want to win in 2008 and beyond, we can't just blow off any area of our cities, our counties, our state, or our country. While we may disagree on specific topics and issues, our core values are the same. We've got to start focusing on where we agree, because it is better to elect someone who votes with you 85% of the time than someone who votes with you 5% of the time.

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    I didn't get a chance to read through all the comments, but I thought I'd chime in. Before living overseas, I lived in Portland for 11 years. However, I grew up in Southern Oregon (Grants Pass and Medford).

    My thinking is whichever party in Oregon can bridge the rural vs urban divide will have a big advantage for years to come. The Democrats only really need to gain a good chunk (not all) of the rural population and hold their own in the metro areas to turn Oregon bright blue.

    I too have a tendancy to wonder about some people from rural areas (even though I once lived there). I do think it's possible to make gains in rural areas, but insults will get us no where. There has to be a difference in thinking by those progressives in the larger areas as well. Remember, it takes two to tango.

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    TorridJoe wrote: Progressive Majority doesn't have a strong base in Oregon, but their Washington chapter kicks ass. ... It would be swell to have them set up shop here, it would.

    TJ, America (and Oregon) are run by the people who show up. You just did. Ding! This task is now assigned to you. Make it happen!

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  • walkabout (unverified)

    Paulie, After Sal Esquivel won by so few votes in Jackson County in 2006 and his opponent did so little work, I decided the tide has turned, that John Doty could have won that seat had he run in '06. I think you're right on, some rural areas are up for grabs. Just the library closings here will stimulate more candidates. People have come to realize the "quality" of the county board. I'm hopeful, and think Alan Bates would do well. I hope Jeff Golden won't run against him if he chooses to run.

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