A Democratic wave year? In the State Senate, don't rule it out!

By Kelley Meck of Portland, Oregon. Kelley is a campaign professional turned law student.

There are 100 days until polls close -- are you excited yet? Were you thinking of this year as the biggest pick-up opportunity for Democrats in the Oregon State Senate in recent memory? If not, you may need to re-think how you think about Oregon elections.

The conventional wisdom is that midterm elections aren't big opportunities for Democrats to pick-up seats. As far as the State Senate is concerned, the conventional wisdom is completely wrong. The usual reasoning is that high-turnout favors Democrats, and presidential elections get higher turn-out, so subsequent midterm races see losses for Democrats. And that's generally good reasoning, where politicians elected in presidential years next face election in midterms. But in Oregon, state senators are elected for four-year terms, so if a seat is a midterm election this year, it was a mid-term election last time too. So in Oregon, the comparison isn't between midterms and presidential years, it's between this midterm election and the last midterm election.

Stop and think, and you'll recall 2010 was a Republican wave year. In fact, it was arguably the biggest Republican wave year ever. Let's say you count seats in state legislatures nationwide. Around the country, after 2010 the Republicans held 3,941 state legislative seats, more than at any time since 1928, when they held 4,001 seats. Making a more recent comparison, in the massive Republican wave year of 1994, Republicans gained about 500 seats. In 2010, Republicans gained over 700 seats.

So what does that mean for the State Senate in 2014? It means this year, at the State Senate, the pendulum is probably going to swing the other way. Republicans have to play defense, and the Democrats are on the attack. It also means that the Democrat's best opportunity to pick up a couple seats and break the 15-15 vote logjam in the State Senate is this year. Not 2016.

Counting Election Day, there are 100 days between now and when polls close this November. BlueOregon readers already know the State Senate is frequently the place where progressive bills go to die. Progressives who miss the chance to get involved with this election may be missing their best shot at making progressive political change for Oregon.

Here are just two of the races the Democrats could win, and you don't have to look further than the May-June fundraising totals to see that these candidates are attracting real support:

Sara Gelser (D), SD 8, which includes Corvallis, Philomath, Albany, Tangent, Millersburg, and portions of unincorporated Linn and Benton Counties.

In May and June, Rep. Gelser's cash donations amount to $22,421, outraising her opponent Betsy Close's fundraising for the same period. Even more strikingly, Gelser appears to have about twice the warchest for this race, although she's been raising money for less than a year, possibly due to Sen. Close's being considerably more conservative than her district.

Jamie Damon (D), SD 20, which includes Candy, Gladstone, Oregon City, Beavercreek, Mulino, Boring, Charbonneau, Jennings Lodge, and Barlow.

Previously a Clackamas County Commissioner, Damon raised $23,160 in May and June, far exceeding the $13,850 raised by her opponent, Sen. Alan Olsen, in the same period. She still has some ground to regain, since Sen. Olsen has raised over $100k over his four years of incumbency; but the momentum is clearly on her side.

Two other races where this may be a great year for Democrats are in SD 26, where Rob Bruce is challenging Sen. Chuck Thomsen, and in SD 15 where Chuck Riley is challenging Sen. Bruce Starr. These races are still just heating up, and both Bruce and Riley need to step up their fundraising if they want to introduce themselves to voters come the fall. But these are both seats where, once you remember that 2010 was a fluke year, you have to recognize a strong possibility for a Democratic pick-up.

guest column

connect with blueoregon