I had an interesting conversation with a friend over the weekend. He's about 15 years older than I am, an unabashed fiscal conservative and a long-time NAV. Knowing that he's into politics I figured I'd break the ice by asking if he'd seen my brief cameo in the Jeff Merkley TV ad. He hadn't recognized me in it but was more than willing to discuss politics.
He and I had discussed the Senate race before and I already knew that he wants Gordon Smith to be defeated. But this time he seemed to have spent some time thinking about exactly why he wants Smith defeated and wanted to explain his rational.
The fateful crux for him was Gordon Smith's December 2006 speech to the Senate criticizing the Iraq War and suggesting that it might be a criminal enterprise. My friend's view is that Smith had crossed an ethical line by not discussing his concerns in private with Bush first and then, if that didn't get him anywhere, he could then have gone public with his concerns. This guy is emphatic about Smith having committed an unforgivable political sin that day and he appears quite serious about wanting Smith to pay the ultimate political price for it. And he seems to clearly understand the political reality that casting a protest vote for someone who has no chance of winning won't accomplish his one goal for this race - seeing Smith defeated. Which is good news for Oregon Democrats.
Now, this man has previously indicated to me an interest in voting for Merkley in the General Election. But his other main beef he wanted to vent in our chat is his steadfast opposition to tax increases. I told him that no matter who wins the Dem primary that he's going to be disappointed on that point. He then brushed that aside, which I took to indicate that he's resigned himself to voting for someone who is going to be favorably disposed to raising taxes.
My point in bringing this up here is less about the Dem primary race and more about an insight into the mindset of Smith's conservative base. I think that the Smith campaign knows that they're going to win or lose with however the moderate voters decide to vote. If my conservative friend is any indication, like-minded conservatives are interested in the Democratic Senate race largely to the extent that they want to see the most politically viable candidate emerge. Enough of them are likely lost to Smith that I suspect we can largely discount them as a serious pro-Smith political force in the General Election.
Which leaves the moderates. Considering that Gordon Smith has won repeatedly by tacking to the political center during elections, it seems to me that not much has really changed except that Smith has offended his conservative base and is thus far more vulnerable than he ever has been before.
The question is: How do Oregon Democrats capitalize on that?