Smith '08: Run, Ben Westlund, Run!

Russell Sadler

The U.S. Presidential election in 2008 is not the only race off to an early start. In Oregon, U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith’ reelection race in 2008 is also heating up early.

Smith lit the fuse himself with his Senate floor speech last December.

“I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. That is absurd. It may even be criminal. I cannot support that anymore.”

That speech brought the predictable cries of “political expediency” from Democrats and “betrayal” from Republicans, while Oregon’s large group of crossover voters looked on with curiosity.

Smith’s recent vote to support a Republican filibuster preventing a Senate debate on the Iraq war cranked the heat up higher.

Democratic political operative Steve Novick assails Smith at every opportunity at and and has publicly discussed his own prospective candidacy for Smith’s seat if no other Democrat runs.

Republican blogger Dean Barnett at calls for a loyal Republican to take Smith on in the Oregon primary. Fred Barnes, a member of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders at the pro-war Weekly Standard and voluble entertainer on Fox, selected Smith as his “Turncoat of the Year.”

These self-styled conservatives have been drinking great draughts from the Kool-Aid tankard since their repudiation at the polls last November. They have convinced themselves the reason for their party’s ouster was that their candidates weren’t conservative enough. They do not seem to realize they were ousted because despite all their talk, their party failed to deliver on anything but their tax cuts. The wealthy, it appears, are too narrow a base to win elections indefinitely.

It is hard to imagine a Oregon Republican running to the right of Smith who still would have the appeal to win the Democratic and crossover voters any candidate needs to win a statewide race. The Republicans’ one well-known candidate, Ron Saxton, was trounced by Gov. Ted Kulongoski in what was supposed to be a close race.

I am told that Steve Novick is a well-known political operative with many friends in the Democratic Party. But no serious Democrat can believe that a candidate with no experience holding public office could win a race for the U.S. Senate from this state. Yet no Oregon Democrat of stature has publicly expressed interest in running.

Still, I think a Democrat capable of unseating Smith is serious about running. I suspect Oregon Democrats will choose Sen. Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo, to run against Smith in November, 2008.

Wisely, I think, Westlund has not said anything publicly. He’s got his nose to the grindstone doing his job as a state senator for the duration of the legislative session.

Westlund’s email newsletter indicates he is supporting things voters say they want done -- reforming health care, stabilizing Oregon school finance, rebalancing Oregon’s wildly unbalanced tax system and doing what limited things government can do to promote economic development and create jobs.

What you do not hear about Westlund is almost as significant as what you do hear. You do not hear Oregon Democrats calling Westlund a political opportunist. You do not hear Democrats expressing mistrust of Westlund because he changed parties.

Perhaps Oregon Democrats are grateful to Westlund for terminating his independent candidacy for governor when polls showed he could not win, but might be a spoiler. Westlund’s withdrawal allowed Kulongoski to trounce Saxton.

Perhaps Westlund is welcomed because no other Democrats want to risk their seats by running against Smith now that they are back in the majority again.

Perhaps Oregon Democrats recognize they are within striking distance of holding both U.S. Senate seats for the first time since Wayne Morse and Richard Neuberger held them in the 1950s.

In Salem, people who cover the legislature daily tell me Westlund is advancing his agenda -- which mirrors much of the Democrats’ agenda -- because he is working with members of both parties. That skill attracts voters.

The session is a long way from over and we will not know how effective Westlund will be until then. But I have a well-honed hunch that in November, 2008, Ben Westlund will give Oregon voters a reason to return Gordon Smith to his beloved golf courses, a victim of Republican excesses that drove the Republicans out of power, and an intraparty bloodletting that will damage the Republican’s prospects for decades.

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    At the risk of sounding like a quibbler, I must point out that one of my favorite senators ever, Wayne Morse, won a senate seat from Oregon without ever having held public office. He was, if I remember right, the Dean of the U of O Law School.

    Personally, I like both Steve and Ben. Either would make an excellent U.S. senator.

  • THartill (unverified)


    Cmon Ben, time to throw your hat in!

  • Mike Litt (unverified)

    Either Steve Novick or Ben Westlund would be a great Oregon Senator. But Steve's strong identification with the Portland Metro area would be a disadvantage in a statewide race that Ben would not have.

    Run, Ben, run!

  • WouldNeverVoteForBen (unverified)

    Here's one Democrat who has no problem saying Westlund is nothing but a whiny opportunist who has proven time and again he doesn't share the values of the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.

    Here's a promise to our party: If our party sells us out and gives our nomination to a self-serving user like Westlund to run against Smith, here's one Democrat who not only wll not vote Democratic, but who will do everything I can to support a third party candidate who actually stands up with integrity for true Democratic values.. Westlund is about as far from that as you can get.

    For the record, I wouldn't vote for Novick either. I read nothing in his WWeek story that gave the slightest hint he has a clue when it comes to speaking and defending true Democratic values that matter to the majority of folks.

    If these two are the best we have to offer, and I don't believe that for a minute, it would speak rather poorly about the people of Oregon.

  • Jason Skelton (unverified)

    How about a better idea: Jefferson Smith should run! From his work founding and leading the Oregon Bus Project, he has proven himself great on the important issues--the environment, health care, election reform--to name a few. Just as important, he has a proven track record of getting people involved in politics and doing what it takes to win.

    Also, Jefferson has state-wide connections through his work on the Bus Project. Not only is there a branch in Eugene, members also live in Central Oregon, Eastern Oregon, Southern Oregon, and the Potland metro area.

    We should send Jefferson Smith to Washington!

  • WouldNeverVoteForBen (unverified)

    Since "Blue" Oregon has decided to make this forum available to propagandizing for Westlund (we're talking about "official" bloggers here, not respondents), who is more than fairly characterized by his own shill as self-serving in "advancing HIS agenda -- which (at best) MIRRORS much of the Democrats’ agenda" ?!?!?!, it's more than fair to:

    1) Question if the proprietors and commentators can reasonably and consistently define what values are "Blue";

    2) Test if and how the positions, values, and political actions of Westlund and his supporters are in fact "Blue" (his signature issue, his sales tax proposal, is anything but);

    3) Thereby determine whether "Blue" Oregon is fraudulent when it comes to faithfully defending liberal and progressive values, and whether Westlund is even close to being "Blue".

    My personal observations: 1) "No", 2) "No", 3) "YES" and "NO".

    Before it's all said and done, one wonders if a venal politician like Westlund won't end up making more political hay with a straw-man strategy of running against the obnoxious cartoon of "Blue" as represented here, than whatever it is he actually stands for besides his own interests and those of his privileged cronies.

  • TomCat (unverified)

    At this point, any Democrat will do. If the Democrats nominate a mentally retarded, flatulent chimpanzee, that performs obscene gestures in public, to run against Smith, I'll vote for the monkey!!!

  • Thomas Ware (unverified)

    No longer curious, show Mr. Smith the door.

  • (Show?)

    OK WouldNever,

    For a start, why don't you submit a guest column defining True Blue per your second question in the above comment.

    I can't speak for my fellow fake progressives, but I am literally panting for enlightenment........especially as it seems that you have it all figured out already.

    I'm guessing that once we've received our secret handshake, we can all end these useless discussions and debate and get back to Desperate Housewives.

  • geoffludt (unverified)

    Wow, wouldnevervoteforben is spot-on. The original post and the pro-Ben chorus of respondents expose the most serious flaw with debate here at BlueOregon (and many other venues), the focus is not on what's right and wrong, it's on power as an ends.

  • Don Beal (unverified)

    Ben Westlund is starting 100 yards behind Steve Novick in my book. As a former faithful Republican and chairman of Kevin Mannix gubenatorial run I believe he has not yet earned is Democratic party stripes. I too abhore his promotion of a sales tax.

  • (Show?)

    A little meta-response for the the meta-discussion started by WouldNeverVoteForBen.

    As we've said from the beginning, BlueOregon does NOT endorse candidates. Ever.

    BlueOregon itself won't collectively endorse candidates, stage protests, or even go out for donuts.

    We're also open to all kinds of flavors of "blue".

    What do mean, "progressive"? Well, ideology is always in the eye of the beholder. Contributors to BlueOregon will likely disagree with each other a lot. That said, we generally believe in the power of people to organize themselves for the improvement of society, through government and other institutions.

    Certainly, many of our contributors (include me) have been plenty critical of Ben Westlund:

    I like Ben Westlund, but I won't vote for him. Ben Westlund and the Irish Potato Famine Ben's Game Westlund Wearing the Uniform? AFSCME rejects Westlund: he's got bad votes and he can't win Questions about Ben Westlund's position on Choice Ben Westlund cannot save us Ben Westlund and the Arrogance of Non-partisan Purity

    And, of course, there's been plenty of pro-Westlund stuff - especially from Russell Sadler. He's entitled to his views, and so is everybody else.

    If you'd like to submit a guest column with all the reasons why you won't support Ben Westlund - you know where to do that.

  • Jesse B. (unverified)

    The political opportunist in me sees a chance to keep what was once a red district in the Oregon Senate for awhile.

    I like Ben Westlund right where he is.

  • (Show?)

    "BlueOregon itself won't collectively endorse candidates, stage protests, or even go out for donuts."

    No donuts! That's it, I'm done reading this blog.

  • LT (unverified)

    Can we be serious for just a moment?

    Gordon Smith was for debating a war he said might be criminal before he voted against debating it, there is all sorts of interesting news and commentary on the Washington Post website right now about the Iraq debate incl.

    One House Republican close to the GOP leadership spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be blunt. "This next week is going to be a very tough one for us to get through," he said. "The Democrats know that. We can sit back and hope they overplay their hand, but I don't think they will." ,

    the Filing Deadline for the US Senate nomination is over a year away, and all some people can find to talk about is that they don't like Ben Westlund?

    OK, fine. If Ben runs, spend all your spare time campaigning for one of his opponents. No one ever said any politician is perfect.

    The people who advocate Steve Novick or Jeff Smith or anyone else are being constructive. They want my vote. I see no difference in attitude between those who attack any candidate without specifying an alternative, and those Republicans who say "Only those who support our resolution support the troops". In each case it is as if winning the debate is all that matters, not what is going on in the real world.

    Those who just complain they don't like Ben--what is the objective, just to be nasty?

    Did Teddy K. get re-elected Gov. because he finally got his act together and made some intelligent speeches? Or do some think he won over people who didn't vote for him in the primary with his "I'm running against 2 Republicans" rhetoric? Anyone who thinks that BO is of one mind on that issue should know that people like me clashed with people like Kari both here and in face to face conversations.

    How many people either signed Westlund for Gov. petitions or didn't sign but attended one of his events? Are you Westlund critics seriously thinking you will win those people over to your chosen Senate candidate by bashing him? Or don't you care whether Smith is defeated as long as you can bash Ben Westlund?

    I have not always been a Ben Westlund fan, as his first election was the one where he defeated a friend of mine. But he does say candid, intelligent things few others say. It was an actual interview where he said something amazingly candid which first made me a fan. Now, if you critics are trying to say I shouldn't have admired anything Ben Westlund ever said because you don't like him, you have a right to your opinion but you can forget about my ever supporting your candidate.

    Ben does work hard, and he has been known to get results. I'm a solution oriented person, not an ideologue.

    If saying the above means I am not a "progressive", that's fine with me as I think labels short circuit thought. If saying that makes me "not a real Democrat", thanks for the encouragement to drop my partisan registration the day after the 2008 primary.

    If any of you believe someone is supposed to register with the same party their entire life, then you don't want my vote--I've been registered in both major parties and NAV. I think the fastest growing party is no party at all. If all Democrats vote for the Dem. nominee for US Senate in 2008, and all GOP vote for Gordon Smith, the people not registered with a major party will decide that election.

    I'd like to see Gordon Smith retired in 2008. I don't see how bashing any Democratic politician achieves that goal. And no blogger will ever change my mind on that!

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    If Earl B. runs, he will win. But Earl B. will only run if the gurus in DC tell Earl that he has an overwhelming probability of victory over Smith.

    If Earl B. does not run, Smith will be returned to office.

    The rest of this is a lot of giggles and fairy tales, but largely a waste of time and energy.

  • (Show?)

    That's right, BlueNote. You tell 'em.

    Be sure to call the folks in Virginia too. Ain't no way some guy who has never been elected is going to beat an incumbent US Senator (and presidential candidate!) in 2006. No way.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Be sure to call the folks in Virginia too. Ain't no way some guy who has never been elected is going to beat an incumbent US Senator (and presidential candidate!) in 2006. No way.

    If we had a former cabinet secretary who was interested in running for Senate that would be an appropriate comparison. And then we would be counting on Smith to make the same miststeps Allen did.

    The idea that anyone who criticizes a potential candidate here needs to support an alternative is silly. There are a lot of people in Oregon over the age of 30 who are eligible to run for the United States Senate. Any of them are alternatives to whoever gets suggested here. Of course the minimum qualification is a willingness to run. Steve Novick is really only on the list because he has that.

    There are probably a half-dozen legislators with the experience/ability to take a run at Smith. As one of those, Ben Westlund is an intriguing candidate. But the question of whether how much he is really a Democrat certainly needs to be answered. I think someone would need to test that in a primary. I am not sure having a hard fought primary is the best way to beat Smith. I am not convinced it is fatal to that effort either.

    I am not sure Earl can win and I doubt he is either. Which is why he probably won't run.

    Is Jefferson Smith even old enough to run for the Senate? He is a better choice than Steve Novick in that he has shown the ability to inspire and organize people. But his narrow use of those skills for partisan political purposes is probably fatal. He needs to lead the fight for an alternative to blowing out I5 through Portland or go start a fuel oil coop, or something...

    How about Barbara Roberts? Phil Keisling? Jim Hill?

  • Mike (unverified)

    Ross is right: Jefferson Smith needs to work on one of Ross' personal pet projects before Oregonians will accept him as a viable candidate. (?!)

    Personally, I'd like to see Wyden run against Smith. We all know he can do the job, we all know he could get elected to that particular office, and he wouldn't be risking his seat to do it. We could essentially defer the race with the benefit of removing Smith's incumbency advantage. :) (not a real suggestion)

  • dartagnan (unverified)

    "How about a better idea: Jefferson Smith should run!"

    Excellent suggestion! I've met Jeff Smith a number of times. He's smart, eloquent, charismatic, funny, good-looking and knowledgeable. And with a name like Jefferson Smith, how can he lose???

    "Is Jefferson Smith even old enough to run for the Senate?"

    There's no age requirement for senators under the Constitution.

  • Jason Skelton (unverified)

    "Is Jefferson Smith even old enough to run for the Senate?"

    As a matter of fact, he should not be dogged by the, "Does he meet the minimum constitutional requirements?" argument at all. Article I, Section 3 requires a senator be at least 30 years of age and have been a US citizen for 9 years. Done and done. In your face US Constitution!

  • (Show?)

    The Constitution requires that you be 35 to be President, 30 to be a Senator, and 25 to be a Representative. Trivia note: Joe Biden was only 29 when elected to the U.S. Senate, but turned 30 before he was sworn into office the following January.

    While Jefferson has all the fine attributes noted by dartagnan, I'm not aware of him having any interest in running for the U.S. Senate (at least not this year). He is understandably focused in sustaining the success of The Bus in helping us recapture the Oregon Senate (2004) and House (2006) and holding on to the Governorship. As a general rule, candidates who have to be "drafted" are not very successful because they don't have the fire in the belly required to win.

    Better to foucs on people who want to win, and who have the fire, like Steve Novik. And for those who think we have to run mediocre, middle-of-the-road candidates to win, I think the lesson of the 2006 election is that in many cases it was the candidates who provided a sharp contrast who were the most successful. When voters are looking for change, you have to offer it to them to win.

  • Dale Thompson (unverified)

    I agree that Jefferson Smith is one of our states future leaders (and he will be a great one) but I also think he might want to start with Secretary of State and build from there. As for Ben Westlund, I'm with Sadler. The right side of the state may not be blue but it's becoming more purple than bright red -- and Ben Westlund is only going to make that change more obvious. He is the one candidate who can (and will)carry both sides of the state.

  • Groundedinreality (unverified)

    Westlund is a compelling leader at the state level on important issues. However, he would get annihilated by Smith and his fortunes and dirty tricks.

    Unfortunately, politics being politics, all the things that Smith is vulnerable on - supporting Bush, speaking with forked tongue on the war, a conservative voting record, etc. etc....Smith would bludgeon Westlund on and more....a drug addled, immoral, no priniciples or core's not fair, but that's reality. It would be ugly.

    Folks like Sadler and the idealism before reality Bus crowd were all excited about Westlund for guv too...did anyone notice his race was lackluster at best -- incoherent on message and policy, disorganized, and ended in debt? Sure the Oregonian ED board gets excited about "independent mavericks" like Westlund, Smith, Novick, etc. but their track record of picking winners is dismal.

    We need a committed, consistent populist who will stick Smith's pompous hypocrisy back in his face every time he utters his lame Reaganesque metaphors that paper over his cowardice...and that person is Peter DeFazio .

    He may not know that he <u>has</u> to do this, bu he has the fire in the belly so let's start the draft. Remember US Senator Claire McCaskill said no at first too. The majority in the US Senate is slim -- people are dying -- this is not a parlor game. Oregon needs to win this one for our troops and to continue to unravel the Bush debacle. Be smart people.

  • Jefferson Smith (unverified)

    I actually think Ben Westlund would be a strong candidate for the US Senate. He's a great guy.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Ross is right: Jefferson Smith needs to work on one of Ross' personal pet projects before Oregonians will accept him as a viable candidate.

    While I5 may fit that, the fuel oil coop was actually supposed to be a comparison to one of the younger Kennedy's. I can't keep them all straight any more. In any case, I think it is a mistake to think a resume as a professional partisan operative, no matter how successful, qualifies one to make a successful run for statewide office. In fact, its hard to imagine anything less appealing to voters.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    After all these diatribes, I think I'll vote for the rude monkey mentioned in one of the earlier posts.

    I signed Westlund's petition and was hoping to see him emerge as a decent alternative to Kulongoski and Saxton, but was way underwhelmed by his campaign. That makes me question whether he has the smarts and savvy to mount a statewide campaign.

    <h2>You can't count out Novick for lack of experience. I doubt there are five other Oregonians as well equipped to actually function in the U.S. Senate as Steve is. If the media will take him halfway seriously, he could pull it off. He might even play well in Eastern Oregon. At least people will be curious about him.</h2>

connect with blueoregon