How Jeff Reardon beat Mike Schaufler (and why it matters)

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

How Jeff Reardon beat Mike Schaufler (and why it matters)

Jeff Reardon

It's been two weeks since the primary election, and the election result that continues to reverberate around the country is the win by Jeff Reardon over Rep. Mike Schaufler in the HD-48 Democratic primary. Along with all the local coverage, the story's been picked up by Mother Jones magazine and was front-paged at DailyKos over the weekend.

It was an extraordinary achievement. After all, it's been more than nearly 20 years since a Democratic incumbent was knocked off in a primary in Oregon. And it was only possible because of an unprecedented coalition coming together to defeat Schaufler and a confluence of events that DailyKos's David Jarman called "a perfect storm":

First, a candidate worth beating. Rep. Schaufler made himself a political target through his votes - on health care, environment, foreclosure reform, and tax fairness. Because of his personal troubles - spending campaign cash on bar tabs and the allegations of sexual assault - he made it hard for his friends to stand next to him. And he became a lazy campaigner, relying almost entirely on lobby fundraising. For incumbents, raking in campaign cash from the lobby is relatively easy, but if that's all a legislator does, the campaign strucutre will atrophy in place.

Second, a credible opponent. With experience as a military veteran, in the private sector, as a school board member, and as a high school teacher, Jeff Reardon had the kind of life story that appeals to voters. He was able to communicate his story and values in a credible way, and out regular-guy an incumbent whose regular-guy attitude was always part of his appeal. And most importantly, Reardon was willing to work hard - raising money and hitting the doors and phones. Given all the outside help pouring in, some candidates might think they could coast, expecting others to do the heavy lifting. (I've seen that happen before, and it never ends well.)

Third, favorable terrain. In redistricting, HD-48 shifted to the west - giving up much of Happy Valley and the Powell Butte area, and picking up Mt. Scott and parts of north Clackamas County west of I-205. More important than any particular ideological arrangement of voters was simply the fact that 60% of them were new to the district - with no particular attachment to Schaufler.

Fourth, the endorsements of a dozen legislators. Incumbents get challenged all the time, usually by people who have no business running for office. Primary voters have well-tuned "crazymeters" that tend to give huge weight to incumbents. While Schaufler and Reardon had roughly equal numbers of endorsements from sitting legislators, they were immensely more important to Reardon - both as a signal to primary voters and a signal to institutional players that he was credible. (More than one observer mentioned to me the critical role played by Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer in pulling together the legislative endorsements for Reardon. Keny-Guyer, of course, was just appointed back in September - so this effort on her part demonstrated a high tolerance for risk and an impressive bit of execution for a rookie. Stay tuned, folks.)

Fifth, the monster coalition that arrayed itself against Schaufler. I've never seen anything like it in a legislative race in Oregon.

Looking ahead, the lessons here are clear: When focused and organized, progressives can win Democratic primaries against entrenched incumbents. Help from the incumbent in the form of laziness, scandal, or unlikability (or all three) is useful, of course. And it takes an all-hands-on-deck approach, with multiple partners contacting voters through multiple channels - on the doorstep, in the mailbox, on the phones, and online. Now, it's my hope that these sorts of primaries are rare - after all, when an incumbent is that far out of step with his/her district, it represents failure on a lot of levels.

In his victory speech, Jeff Reardon said, "I always believed we could do this. I said that from the beginning. I said it because I didn't know what I was talking about. I always believed it could happen. Logical and informed people said no, it could never happen -- so, take that!"

Indeed.

Comments

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    I just wanted to second what Kari said about the campaign. Our firm, TruBlu Politics, did Jeff Reardon's, OLCV's and Climate PAC's mail in this race and the most impressive thing was the decisiveness and organization the campaign and Allies like OLCV showed.

    We all agreed on the message that we needed to get to the voters and the campaign, Led by Edward McGlone, stuck to the message and was very decisive in executing the plan.

    In the end what Kari said about everyone pulling together was huge to get the message across about Schaufler's Republican values was what did it. That we all managed to stay on message together, even though we couldn't talk to each other in some cases also speaks to the help we all got from our opponent.

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    Although the cannabis lobby was most public in our support of Ellen Rosenblum, we quietly also supported Mr. Reardon because of the vehement opposition we have seen from Rep. Schaufler time and time again over workplace and other issues. With 2 legalization initiaitves likely to make the ballot, folks running for office are going to have to stake out a position on marijuana policy. Looks like it going to be an exciting cycle for drug policy!

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    Bike Walk Vote is proud to to be an early supporter of Jeff Reardon, donating over $1,000 to his campaign to beat Schaufler.

    There's good reason for us to focus on the Reardon race: It offered the opportunity to take out on the CRC's most vocal supporters (Schaufler) and to replace him with a cyclist (Reardon!)

    Thanks for running such a strong campaign, Jeff!

    And thanks to so many fellow progressive campaigners for joining the fight.

    It feels good to hold a bad guy accountable.

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    One minor correction to my post. The last Democratic incumbent to lose in a primary was Tom Mason in 1994 - 18 years ago. The district was in southwest Portland.

    After years of saying he was pro-choice, Mason accepted the help of Oregon Right to Life. A team of activists and leaders - including Mary Nolan, Jewel Lansing, Phyllis Oster, and others - swooped in with volunteers from Oregon NARAL.

    With just a few days left (and remember, no vote-by-mail back then), Anitra Rasmussen defeated Mason in the primary.

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    I'm still pretty blown away by the margins in this race and the Knopp/Telfer race in Bend. Incumbents facing primary contests totally got their clocks cleaned this time around.

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      Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

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    My first real optimism about this race came when I was door knocking a couple weeks before ballots were due and someone said, "You guys came by yesterday."

    It was then that I knew we were doing the work needed to give us a real shot against a quarter million dollars of conservative lobby money.

    Walking. Knocking. Person by person, conversation after conversation.

    Congrats to all who contributed to an impressive victory. I look forward to working with Rep. Reardon.

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    A heartwarming political story Kari. Thanks for telling it.

    How about telling us now how your client Eileen Brady raised twice as much money as Jefferson Smith, well over a million dollars, and still couldn't make the general. That would be a very interesting piece of insider analysis that I would like to read.

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    I got an email from a Reardon volunteer named Anne Stacey. With her permission, I'm posting her story here:

    I wanted you to know that I contacted Jeff as soon as I heard he was going to try to take the nomination because I didn't like the representation I was getting.

    I knocked on a lot of doors, and I know that I changed some votes. My favorite was a lady I spoke to and to whom I told why I didn't like Mike...sexual harrassment, using lobby funds to pay bills and not having another job during times the legislature wasn't in session plus the environmental issues.

    After I talked to her for about 5 minutes she told me that she would vote for Jeff. Then she asked me what she "should do with the sign"? When I asked "What sign?" she pointed to a Schaufler sign in a corner of her yard which was not in my sight when I walked up to her door.

    I told her that she should take it down and put up one of Jeff's and she agreed.

    I think that fact that there were people like me, unpaid volunteers who were out because they didn't like the incumbent but were convinced that the background of the challenger made him a great alternative, made the difference.

    Big thanks to Anne - and all the volunteers who hit the streets and the phones for Jeff!

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      I know that WFP was turning out volunteers as well as paid organizers because they included friends of mine. MoveOn Council is entirely volunteer.

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    Bye, Mike. But we do owe him one debt of gratitude: if he had voted in 2008 for a proposed legislative fix of the Measure 37 mess (as every other Democrat did - it failed by his one vote), Measure 49 would not have been referred out to the voters; as it was, it was, and passed by 20%, thus vindicating Sen. Prozansky's risk-taking and silencing land-use foes more or less for good.

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    I think you also should give credit to the voters of district 48. Having represented the district for 6 years (prior to boundary changes of course) and being somewhat familiar with some areas newly in district 48, the motivated voters who actually turned out to vote in this election were not merely advertized into electing Reardon over Schaufler. The campaign was good and all should be commended but the voters who turned out exercised judgement and clearly,by 2 to 1, they reached a conclusion that doomed Schaufler to defeat..and likely would have had there been,had candidates been limited to less than half of what they spent. I am convinced that Door to door campaigning is critical in rep. races and that a money advantage can be overcome by a good door to door effort as long as the money gap is not so large as to prevent basic facts about the candidates conveyed and any last minute trumped up negative campaign charges answered. The amount of money spent per vote cast shows that the sky is the limit when there are no limits on campaign spending..and in the heat of a campaign, one wants to reply to every volley launched by the other side and do everything one can...and that is done by both sides. As we look at this well-earned victory, let us think too, about what the "price" is getting to be for a good candidate to beat a bad one and ponder what we can do to work for reforms that can rein in the costs of campaigning at every level. At the national level, the Citizens United decision and other factors are a major problem. We should be looking at what is happening at the state and local level and do what we can to address this.

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    Inspirational stuff to be sure I talked with an OLCV staffer on the phone and she assured me they were doing everything they could to get Jeff Reardon in I seldom take sides in primaries but this one was a no brainer I am pleased by the outcome

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