Has Gordo lost his conservative base?

Kevin Kamberg

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?

Comments

  • LT (unverified)
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    "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?"

    Kevin, I think you hit the nail on the head. I know from a conversation this weekend (a relative who lives out of state, it was about general and presidential politics) that the old theory of the 95% of the public who are not political actually deciding elections is still true.

    I think everyone here who is the partisan for any candidate in a contested primary (US Senate, Congress, AG, Sec. of State, etc.) should seek out at least one friend who is not a gung ho activist and talk about the primaries.

    I did that this weekend with someone who is the former neighbor of a Cong. candidate. Someone who knew he was registered to vote but wasn't sure if he was registered in a major party or not (working, married, small child, --has other priorities than party politics). I told him to check and if he wanted to vote for his former neighbor he had until April 29 to register Dem. if he wasn't registered that way already.

    I believe such conversations have a lot more power than blogging in actually deciding election results.

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    And the streak of non-Merkley-pimping Kamberg diaries ends at...one.

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    Oh come on, TJ. Kevin doesn't need to check his bias at the door when dealing with an important question in this year's Senate race.

    And, more to Kevin's question, I'm unsure about how we capitalize. As a relatively young lifelong Democrat, I don't have as much experience as you do, Kevin, in that sort of politics. Do you have any ideas -- especially out in rural Oregon?

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    I'm deeply suspicious of anecdotal analysis and when you've got a dataset of, well, one it's even sillier. If Smith has alienated some conservative voters because of his stance on Iraq being insufficiently bellicose, why would they vote for a Democratic candidate?

    I haven't seen any surveys or polls on Smith at all, especially among conservative voters. The only way I can see to "capitalize" is among moderate voters who are (a) disgusted with the continuing occupation in Iraq and (b) convinced that Smith's stance is insincere.

  • jaybeat (unverified)
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    Kevin,

    No offense to you, but if your friend is willing to disown Smith for his telling the truth about the war in Iraq (if only for a deer in the political headlights moment), then he sounds like a "nineteen percenter" (probably lower, now)--that tiny fridge of true right-wing whack-jobs who still thing George Bush is doing the right thing in Iraq. They are so out there that they are even a (shrinking) minority of people who self-identify themselves as "conservative," so I'm not sure your friend's "abandonment" of Gordo tells us much about conservative voters who aren't completely bonkers.

    Still interesting, though. A peek into an alternate universe. Not unlike listening to John McLame, in that sense.

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    Well, I think we do it by meeting them on their own terms. Address what matters most to them and show them how Gordon Smith hasn't been on their side on those issues and why the Democrat will be on their side and actively representing their interests in the Senate.

    Rather than cynically trying to tap into anger, I think that giving moderates reasons to believe their lives can be improved by getting rid of Smith will resonate strongly in both urban and rural Oregon. Smith's advocacy for John McCain will make that task easier, IMHO.

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    Jefffrane,

    This post wasn't meant to be anything more than anecdotal. I agree with your critique on that point. However I do think that we can learn something valuable by considering why past Smith voters won't be current Smith voters.

    If Smith has alienated some conservative voters because of his stance on Iraq being insufficiently bellicose, why would they vote for a Democratic candidate?

    That's a misunderstanding of what he is looking for, which is probably my fault for not having described him well enough. He wasn't looking for more bellicosity, his beef is that Smith was crassly playing politics with a serious issue and that offended him. From his perspective, Smith was switching horses mid-stream... not because he believed that the horse he had been riding was wrong for him but rather because Smith crassly saw political advantage in switching to a different horse. Which, frankly, illustrates a core value that I've heard from many, many conservatives over the years. They want someone who is going to be honest with them, even if that means that speaking the truth isn't politically advantageous.

  • Dave Lister (unverified)
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    I know quite a few Republicans who have told me they will not vote for Smith. They won't vote for the Democratic candidate either, they simply won't vote.

  • Bird (unverified)
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    I wonder if just being sure people will vote isn't going to carry the show? We have no love lost for any (R) on the ticket now in this state. Numbers of voters are going to be that which deliver many state elections in this country away from the criminal element they now see as the heart of the republican machine. I only mention it because it does seem that polls are rather odd if they do not communicate with actual voters, instead of their trademarked guesstimate of "likely voters". If we are lucky, many cherished (by some) supposedly "non partisan" institutions will have fallen to one side or the other, depending on the weight of their mug, or their wump.

  • Anonymous (unverified)
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    Ok...Who forgot to close their tag???

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    <h2>LT, what on earth makes you think that people blog here to win elections?</h2>

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