Another Blunder from the Gordon Smith Camp - "Democrats for Smith".

Jon Isaacs

I spent last week out of the country for my Brother’s wedding. I made a commitment to myself that during this trip I would keep myself away from the internet and my cell phone. So when I returned Sunday I immediately started getting caught up on current events, hence the delay in writing this post. It may not seem like an immediate reaction, but for me it is. I typed this the moment I read the Democrats for Smith release.

Here’s what I can tell you – the 2007 version of Democrats for Smith is a colossal strategic debacle. If I were working the other side, the members of the Smith political team who were responsible for this would immediately be sent packing. Thankfully, I’m rooting for the good guys so I get the pure enjoyment of pointing out the numerous blunders and strategic errors made in releasing this in April of 2007 – 19 months before Election Day.

Let’s just point out the obvious – this just screams “I’m desperate to keep even a half serious opponent from entering the race!” Why else would anyone do something so blatantly political, tearing to shreds any remaining credibility to Gordon Smith’s claim that his election cycle conversions on the Iraq war, health care, etc. have been sincere personal choices? I mean does this leave any doubt that Gordon Smith has spent the first four months of this year just protecting his political behind?

And for what? To put up the same list of once and/or barely influential Democrats that he put out six years ago? I can count the number of votes this list will get Smith on both hands.

Six years, ago this same tactic was handled deftly. First of all, it was a surprise. And it was released late in the year, after the Party had coalesced around Bradbury as the challenger. Thanks to everyone waiting on Kitzhaber, Bradbury was getting a late start and the D's for Smith list was released during the period when Bradbury was trying to get his campaign off the ground. It truly did some damage six years ago. But all this list says now is I have the same list of Democrats I had six years ago! And six years later this list of names means far less. Heck, one of the people on the list isn't even a Democrat anymore.

So let’s review just where Gordon Smith is after four and a half months of the 2008 election cycle:

*Smith has successfully contradicted his record on the war, health care, taxes and other important issues officially putting him firmly in the dreaded “flip-flopper” category.

*Smith has presumably done this to appeal to Democrats, but polls show that his support with Democrats has actually leveled off or dropped the first half of 2007 and that his support among independent voters is miserable.

*In the meantime, Smith has riled up the right wing ideological purists, otherwise known as the Club for Growth, who has started a chapter here in Oregon.

*Presumably to prove that he truly has Democratic support, Smith released a list of “Democrats for Smith” headed by a former Member of Congress who hasn’t served in nearly a decade. (I have to ask, would any Democratic statewide office holder think they were getting anywhere by touting the support of Denny Smith or Jim Bunn?) In the process this served as his de facto announcement that he is planning on running for re-election. Goodbye benefit of the doubt on election year conversions.

  • Lynn Porter (unverified)

    I sent the following letter to the Eugene Register-Guard:

    In their April 19 full-page ad "Democrats support Gordon Smith," former congresswoman Elizabeth Furse claimed that "Principled Democrats should be proud of Gordon Smith's stand on Iraq."

    Smith's position on Iraq is exactly the same as that of Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Peter DeFazio. All three have kept the war going by repeatedly voting to fund it. The local peace movement is united in demanding that Smith, Wyden and DeFazio cut the funding and end the war. So far all three have refused to do so.

    Instead they have voted for funding bills which would set vague withdrawal deadlines far in the future, with large loopholes. Both the House and the Senate bills would apply their deadlines only to "combat" troops, about half of the U.S. troops in Iraq. Both bills make exceptions for combat troops involved in protecting U.S. bases, training Iraq troops or going after "terrorists." President Bush could easily make the argument that all of the combat troops are doing those things, and keep them there indefinitely.

    The only principle I can see these three politicians following is that of hanging on to their political power. They are afraid that if they vote to cut the funding they will be attacked for not “supporting the troops,” even though the only way to do that is to bring the troops home. All three should be replaced at the earliest opportunity.

  • (Show?)
    All three should be replaced at the earliest opportunity.

    So Hooley, Wu and Blumenhauer get a pass? And what about Walden?

    Your demands are not only not realistic politically (and actually counter-productive to ending the war), but idiotic as a policy matter. I was fully against invading Iraq from well before the Oct. 2002 AUMF vote, but phased re-deployment is the only sensible path at this point.

  • Garrett (unverified)


    Here is a quick politcal lesson for you since you are obviously unable to grasp it on your own. I don't think voting to cut off funding would be a political liability for Wyden but it could be. DiFazio it would definitely be. Here is why.

    If Dems cut off funding Bush isn't going to bring them home. He's going to leave them there. He is exactly the type of person to leave a soldier in a combat zone without any bullets because he is willing to stare down the Dems until they relent. He is a lame duck and it doesn't matter to him because he's not running for office again. So essentially cutting off funding isn't going to work with Bush. He has proven to be very good at blaming things on Democrats and he and Karl Rove are probably drooling over this one because its so easy to make the Dems look like the bad guys.

    Here is the second reason it won't work. Over the last decade the Repubs did a solid job if redistricting every place in the country they could in their favor. They turned once heavily Dem areas into Republican leaning districts. The majority we won in November is tenuous at best if we don't play our cards right. Every Blue Dog Democrat that won in a red district will not defund the troops because their district doesn't want that. This country is still solidly divided almost 50-50 on which party they support and if the Dems continue to look soft on defense and unwilling to support the troops (I don't care if you think it is supporting them by cutting off funding because most people would take that as not supporting the troops) they will lose much of their support in Republican leaning districts.

    So if the Dems manage to screw this up like you would have them we would likely end up with a Republican congress again. Many of those races in the Republican leaning districts were won by hundreds or under 10,000 votes. Following a debacle by Congressional Dems we would probably end up with one of the Republican jokers in the Presidency again. Then you'd get a Repub House, probably a Dem Senate but a good chance it could switch back to Repub hands, and a Repub. Pres.

    So here is politcal reality Lynn. You may hate the war as I do but deal with this. Bush will screw the troops and not think twice about it. It puts Congressional Dems between a rock and a hard place. Just think of all the civil liberties you will lose when you try to vote out good Democrats like Ron Wyden and Peter DiFazio. How old are you? Do you like Medicare and Social Security? The Republicans don't. Do you support a women's right to choose? Republicans dont. Do you enjoy any social services? Republicans don't. Do you enjoy supporting the military industrial complex? Republicans do. Nitwits like you calling for the replacement of good Democrats are the reason Republicans win.

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    Phased re-deployment is the only sensible path at this point.


  • Oregon Bill (unverified)

    The Smith camp also moved to prop up its supposedly "moderate" stance on gay and lesbian issues, with HRC founder (and Smith buddy) Terry Bean describing Gordon as a "friend" in a recent issue of Just Out.

    Smith is a co-sponsor of federal anti-discrimination legislation (looks good on paper) BUT, naturally, this legislation has no chance of passing because of organized opposition from Smith's fellow Republicans.

    And Gordon Smith voted enthusiastically for the Federal Marriage Amendment and worked hard (and successfully) to pass Measure 36, reducing the legal worth and value of gay and lesbian Oregonians, along with their families and kids...

    Definitely not the actions of a particularly good "friend..!"

  • (Show?)

    OK, people. This is NOT a post about the detailed nuances on Iraq by Democratic elected officials. It's also not a post about Iraq strategy. Stay on topic. Submit a guest column if you want to create a new topic.

  • (Show?)
    Posted by: Sal Peralta | Apr 23, 2007 2:00:42 PM Why?

    Here is why:

    After the Surge (PDF)

    Won't further go off-topic by going into it more by discussing further in this thread, but the above linked item is an important read on the subject and speaks to why I posited what I did up-thread, and hopefully addresses your question Sal.

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    Posted by: Oregon Bill | Apr 23, 2007 2:04:04 PM

    Smith's flip-flopping on GLBT issues is something to behold. How anyone at HRC can be buddies with Smith is beyond me after he exploited his feigned support for GLBT equality with his schtick in 2002 with HRC and Matthew Shepard's mom saying Smith was an OK guy, to his then sticking the knife in when he leant his face and support to Measure 36 mailers.

    But then I don't get "log-cabin Republican" thinking in general myself. To me it is like being in the group "Blacks for the Ku Klux Klan".

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    Democrats for Smith? If they really are Democrats why would they support a Republican? This would be like a Duck supporting the Beavers or vice versa. If they insist on claiming to be Democrats, why? Could it be some are ditzy women enamored by Smith's good looks while the males are impressed by his wealth?

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    Sorry Kari--can't let this go: "This country is still solidly divided almost 50-50 on which party they support"

    This statement has no basis in fact. Democrats currently hold a FIFTEEN-point advantage when it comes to which party Americans identify with. What's more, if you read the rest of that report, across the board the tide has shifted ideologically towards progressivism and away from social conservatism.

    The short answer is that if Democrats REALLY supported Smith, planned to in 2008--and were enough to outweigh the cadre of disaffected Republicans--he never would have bothered with the ad Jon is talking about in the first place. So I think this analysis of the electorate is about 3 years off.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    Sorry Torrid, you're right. I should have put "in the last 2 Presidential elections almost a dead 50-50 split." I managed to get thrown off topic there but I will say this. 12% of the US supports pulling all funding. That means roughly 88% doesn't. I was analyzing political fall out from cutting funding enitirely so I apologize.

    I've lived in Oregon over 10 years. My first 2 I was politically inactive and the striking thing about these names Gordon puts on his website is that I don't recognize a single one of them. For 8 years I've paid attention and I don't recognize any of these people. I may have missed some things but I think that's pretty telling of his support among Democrats.

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    Hey Garrett, how could you miss the current elected official on his list who has won the most votes of all? Loafin' Lonnie Roberts!

  • BlueNote (unverified)

    It seems a bit early to tell whether any of Gordo's decisions are "blunders" or not. If he wins in 2008, then I guess that they weren't blunders but instead brilliant political strategy?

    Time will tell.

  • Anon (unverified)

    Dear "Democrats" for Smith:

    1. Do you approve of Smith's repeated use of the filibuster this session to thwart the will of the elected majority? And not just elected, but elected in an historic landslide of epic proportions? Should Smith continue to have the power to do this, or should we take it away from him by increasing the Democratic majority in the Senate?

    Do you approve of the Supreme Court justices Bush has appointed? Who do you want voting/filibustering on the next nominee to the Court? You know if Roe goes, so does Griswold. Is that the kind of country you want to live in? Is that the kind of country you want your daughters to grow up in - where states can make it illegal even for married couples to use birth control? That's Griswold. That case is based on the right of privacy. No right of privacy - goodbye Griswold.

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    The short answer is that if Democrats REALLY supported Smith, planned to in 2008--and were enough to outweigh the cadre of disaffected Republicans--he never would have bothered with the ad Jon is talking about in the first place.

    The polling that Smith did to show support among Democrats was a testament to his intelligence as a political operative.

    He came out with a statement that criticized Bush and reversed his previous policy positions on Iraq, calling the war "criminal".

    A week later we got a Riley poll that showed he has fairly strong support among D's, and the poll gets picked up by the O and by BO.

    The numbers are largely based on support for his supposed opposition to Bush, and they're soft -- though no one mentions that in the newspaper or even here on Blue Oregon. But the impression is left in the mind of the voter -- Smith is a moderate with bi-partisan appeal.


    A few weeks later we get the list of Democrats for Smith and democratic candidates, major donors, etc -- a list that includes our governor, senior senator, and one of the 2 or 3 largest progressive donors in the state essentially saying that they'll "support the democratic nominee" but that Gordon Smith is "a friend" and "enjoy working with him".

    Looks like a pretty solid start to the re-election campaign from where I sit.

    Steve Novick doesn't need people blowing sunshine up his ass about how bad Gordon Smith is screwing up. Smith isn't screwing up. He's making the best moves that are available to him, and he will continue to do so throughout this campaign.

    My advice to Novick is that he have his campaign start calling editorial boards in every town in Oregon to schedule a meeting, a couple of public appearances, and publicized walkthroughs of downtowns around the state. Go talk to local elected officials -- Judges, county commissioners, etc -- regardless of political party.

    Get a satellite phone and do fundraising calls en route.

    Above all, get out of Portland, Corvallis, and Eugene start campaigning around the state.

    Don't drive anywhere farther than 50 miles. Find a friend with a plane.

  • Grant Schott (unverified)

    "Democrats for Hatfield" was probably effective in 1990, but Hatfield truly was a liberal Republican (or at least a moderate)who had real appeal to progressives. On top of that, Harry Lonsdale was very easy to dislike. Smith has been conservative enough in the U.S. Senate ( and even more conservative when he was a state senator)that any Democrat who publicly supports him looks like a total sellout.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    Kari- Argh you're right. I do recognize Lonnie Roberts...that's what happens when you forget someone is alive. :)

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    Garrett, I hate to say it, but I don't think you're correct about your point at all. You seem to be equating cutting all funding IMMEDIATELY, with setting a deadline after which funding will expire, as the Democrats have (weakly) proposed.

    The country supports that position, as well as more broadly supporting the Democrats over Bush on Iraq. According to CBS News from the middle of this month, 6% support blocking all funding immediately...but another 61% support a time limit as Reid has proposed. The LA Times at the beginning of the month indicated that by 48-43, Bush should sign the timetable bill. More significantly, by 45-43, Americans believe Congress should CONTINUE to send the same bill back until Bush signs it. According to Newsweek at the end of March, 57% explicitly support the "out by March 2008" proposition, including 28% of Republicans and 58% of independents.

    The only threat Democrats face on Iraq is if they wilt before Bush. I don't think there is sentiment for a precipitous withdrawal, but the people are definitely on the side of the Dems on their current plan, and against Bush.

    To place this in the context of Smith, the ability to beat him will be predicated in large part on Democrats' ability to make Smith responsible for the mess we're in. Considering he's voted for all of it until it was way too late, it shouldn't be a tough job.

    To respond to Sal's comment--I might agree that it was probably a useful move on his part. But that's not really the issue I don't think; no one's going to remember this in a year. What Jon's trying to point out is not that ordinary Oregonians are buzzing about how vulnerable he is, but that SMITH is clearly worried about his vulnerability.

  • Ross Williams (unverified)

    Smith's position on Iraq is exactly the same as that of Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Peter DeFazio.

    I don't think that is accurate even now as he prepares for a reelection campaign. And it certainly isn't true historically. Smith was a proud supporter of Bush/Cheney's great adventure right up until the time it became a political liability. I suspect the administration still has his vote if they really need it.

  • (Show?)

    SMITH is clearly worried about his vulnerability.

    Smith is campaigning. Senators don't need to campaign unless they are vulnerable. He's doing a good job of cutting off support from the Democratic establishment, and as Isaacs pointed out, a good job of keeping people like DeFazio and Bluemenauer out of the race.

    But that's not really the issue I don't think; no one's going to remember this in a year.

    Don't you believe it. People may not remember any of the specifics, but they'll remember what they need to so far as the Smith camp is concerned: They'll have a vague recollection that reinforces a notion that Smith is a moderate with bi-partisan bonafides.

    It's one thing to attack those bonafides -- though it'd help if the top elected Dems in the state weren't tripping over themselves to say how much they like working with the man. It's quite another to let pollyanna run roughshod over an assessment of the strategy's efficacy.

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    Sorry, I do believe it. The ad and the poll are inside baseball, which 90% of the state missed completely.

    I agree that having Kardon and Ted praise him at this particular juncture is entirely counterproductive, however.

  • Kelly Steele (unverified)

    I'd say one needs look no further than these:

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    Sorry, I do believe it. The ad and the poll are inside baseball, which 90% of the state missed completely.

    I'd agree that more than 90 percent of the people in this state don't know anything about Smith's poll or his 1-page ad in the back of the Op-Ed section. But as I suggested earlier, those are just parts of a broader opening move. You and Jon may not agree (publicly), but Smith has played this opening round of the campaign beautifully.

    For probably about $10,000, he's probably scared off 2 potential "A-List" challengers, distanced himself from the lead ballon that is the Decider, and earned national media attention for taking a position on the war that is probably shared by more than 65 percent of Oregon voters -- all of it without having to take a vote that actually matters.

    Looks like a series of good, complimentary moves to me. All of the negatives Jon mentioned are also true, but they aren't a result .

    As for whether people will remember what's happening now ... as I said, the poll numbers are soft. But as far as I can tell, the later you go into the election, the more hardened voter positions get, and the more expensive and less valuable voter contact gets. Any kind of persuasion that happens early is pure gold.

  • PID (unverified)

    Gordon Smith isn't as moderate as the image he tries to project. But even if he were, just by being a Republican in the Senate, he is standing for conservative Republican leadership of that body. Whether Oregonians re-elect him in 2008 could mean the difference between having Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader, setting the agenda. (And the difference between every Senate committee being chaired by a Democrat or by a Republican.)

  • (Show?)

    Looks like a series of good, complimentary moves to me. All of the negatives Jon mentioned are also true, but they aren't a result ... of Smith playing things poorly, but rather things that he'd have to tackle anyway.

  • (Show?)

    I agree that having Kardon and Ted praise him at this particular juncture is entirely counterproductive, however.

    Please quote and source a single instance of Josh Kardon praising Gordon Smith. Either that, or apologize for the mischaracterization.

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    I would suggest that refraining from truthfully and fairly assessing the impact of a representative's voting pattern, and making a point you will do so, is by its deference a form of indirect praise--but I cheerfully withdraw the reference to Wyden's camp. He has given Smith the hall pass for the election, but he has not in fact praised him beyond the parameters of mutually achieved legislation, that I know of.

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    "For probably about $10,000, he's probably scared off 2 potential "A-List" challengers,"

    I don't think Smith scared DeFazio off, at least not on the basis of the ad or the Riley poll and the expenditure thereof. He didn't want to do the job and move down the ladder, it seems clear. As it came down to the final denial, he talked less about money and more about his position in the House.

    I think Blumenauer is more likely to see the ad and the flips as Jon does, and conclude Smith's own sense of vulnerability, than to be cowed by it. I haven't asked, though.

    I think a better word than 'blunder' might be 'tell.' Smith is sweating the flop a little already.

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    Novick met with the Medford Mail Tribune editorial board on March 24th.

  • Garrett (unverified)

    Torrid, You're missing my point entirely. I have never once said the people do not support the Dems weak plan of requiring a drawback date. I am pointing out that Bush is going to veto this bill. The Senate Repubs (probably including Gordo unless there is enough support without him) are going to filibuster the next bill that comes back with stipulations. Bush and the Repubs have been very good at blaming the Dems for things like this before. If the Dems don't play their cards very carefully we will pay at the polls. I was mostly chastising Lynn's view that Wyden and DiFazio aren't good enough progressives for her. She wants an immediate withdrawl and anything else is not good enough for her. I was saying she is in that 6-12% minority.

    Gordo is going to get called out on this soon enough. We'll see how many Dems keep supporting him when he's going to be forced to put up a vote on the next bill that comes through regarding troop funding and a withdrawl timeline. Will he support it? My guess is he will if there is not a veto proof majority. That way he can pander to Democrats and privately tell the RNC that he is only doing this to get re-elected and if it had come down to it he would voted on their side again like he has in the past.

  • (Show?)
    Bush and the Repubs have been very good at blaming the Dems for things like this before. If the Dems don't play their cards very carefully we will pay at the polls. I was mostly chastising Lynn's view that Wyden and DiFazio aren't good enough progressives for her. She wants an immediate withdrawl and anything else is not good enough for her. I was saying she is in that 6-12% minority.

    I can certainly agree with the latter point--just picking up and leaving isn't popular, although that's logistically impossible for the most part anyway.

    But the only reason the "blame game" has worked is that Democrats have owned the criticism. The President is unpopular, the war is unpopular, and the voters support the Democratic position on the war in FAR greater numbers than the President's. There is no reason, no risk not to confront him on this issue. None.

  • Bill Bodden (unverified)

    "Democrats for Smith" adds credence to the charges that there isn't a dime's worth of difference between the Democratic and Republican parties and that they are the two wings on the corporate bird of prey.

  • j_luthergoober (unverified)

    Write a letter to Senator Golfer; you'll be amazed at the apologetic tone...The guy is on the ropes!

  • blogan (unverified)

    "Democrats for Smith" is just plain wacky. The Dems need to run a credible candidate against him. I think there will be many Republicans who just won't be able to pinch their noses tight enough to vote for Smith. His vote for setting a surrender date should be enough for most Republicans.

    I'm tired of hearing Medved tell me that you don't win by losing, just hold your nose and vote R. Voting for Smith is a losing proposition, for both Republicans and Democrats.

  • jay wells (unverified)

    I won't even try to make a case for the Smith camp's "Democrats for Smith."

    BUT. The Oregon delegation has already made it clear that senority in the House may trump a junior senator's seat. So, for OREGON voters, why isn't "Democrats for Senority in the Senate" a reasonable gambit to aim at a D who thinks Smith has been okay for Oregon?


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