Gordon Smith, UnRepublican

Jon Perr

In a little reported development a few weeks back, senior McCain adviser Charlie Black relabeled his man, "slightly right of center." After having already adopted virtually the entire Bush agenda and just weeks after running an ad titled "True Conservative" during the Republican primaries, John McCain had started his mad dash back to the political center for the general election.

But when it comes to running away from his moribund party, its discredited brand and its wildly unpopular president, no Republican can match the extreme makeover of Oregon Senator Gordon Smith. No doubt, he is running as the UnRepublican.

A quick glance at the Smith web site tells the tale, or at least part of it. Nowhere does the word "Republican" appear on Gordon Smith's home page. In contrast, "Democrats for Smith" is a prominent link available from every page in the site. A Google search shows that the word "Bush" appears exactly three times on the Smith campaign web site; twice in reprinted news articles about Smith's supposed bipartisanship and once to let us know that "Smith broke with Party leaders and President Bush" on the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP).

But it is in his across-the-board rebranding where Smith's flight from his Republican party is most on display. Again, "Republican" is noticeably missing. It's no accident that Smith's ads prominently feature green graphical elements, including a green map of the state, for audiences in environmentally friendly Oregon. His campaign tag line, "common ground, common good' could easily adorn literature from Barack Obama.

Smith's latest spot, "Middle Ground," is the culmination of his centrist facelift project. Touting Smith as "moderate, independent and bipartisan," the ad highlight issues such as stem cell research, energy and the environment where he bucked his party and GOP. The spot cites rankings from National Journal to place Smith in the Senate's political center. All told, it's a far cry from his 2002 TV spot featuring President Bush, back when Gordon Smith was only too happy to let Oregonians know that he carried Bush's water.

Of course, given the current poisonous atmosphere for Republicans, Gordon Smith isn't about to tout the fact that he voted with George W. Bush 90% of the time. His support for John Roberts and Samuel Alito, conservative Supreme Court justices almost certain to support overturning of Roe v. Wade and the undermining of economic, environmental and workplace safety regulations, is unsurprisingly absent as well.

And don't expect the Smith campaign to intersperse footage of his December 2006 protestations about the "absurd" and "criminal" American presence in Iraq with his endorsement of John McCain for President. (The Smith web site's issues section offers exactly two sentences on bringing home the troops.) And to be sure, Gordon Smith's resurrection of Trent Lott (R-MS) will be forgotten as well.

Smith's campaign may be a Potemkin facade, but like other Republicans, he has little choice. With approval ratings for President Bush and the direction of the country reaching record lows, even Republican analyses show Democrats enjoying the support of the American people across virtually every issue. It's no wonder that in the wake of John Boehner's hilarious effort to produce a new slogan for the GOP, outgoing Virginia Congressman Tom Davis concluded, "the Republican brand is in the trash can...if we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf."

In August 2002, President George W. Bush came to Oregon and spoke in glowing terms about Gordon Smith at a Portland reception. This week in Phoenix, John McCain allowed himself to be publicly seen in Bush's company for exactly 47 seconds. Facing a close Senate race so far, that is 47 seconds more than we should expect Bush to spend here with UnRepublican Gordon Smith in 2008.

UPDATE:  In the comments, John reminds readers to consult Jeff Alworth's excellent analysis from April, "Measuring Gordon Smith's 'Maverick' Record."

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    Great post Jon. Our job is to help tell this story to everyone we know. I also suggest people go back and re-read this post from Jeff Alworth and then pass it around. this is blueoregon

    If we can get Democrats from believing that Smith is a moderate we can win. It will require that the evironmentals, gays and others that have supported him in the past in the mistaken belief that he is on their side do not do so this time.

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    I agree it's important to get this message out through the grassroots.

    When I watch Smith's efforts to claim he's the candidate for a "cleaner environment" I don't know whether to laugh, cry, or retch. Some of us remember in 2002 he ran ads pledging to oppose drilling in the Alaska National Wildife Refuge and then his repeated votes to break that promise.

    But that's just the tip of the iceberg, given his overall record in which he occasionally opportunistically votes for the environment when his vote doesn't matter, but the vast majority of the time he works aggressively on behalf of big oil, big timber, and the chemical lobby.

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    Believe me, this gay has never mistaken Smith as being on my side.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Wow, look at the Democrats for Smith — all both of them.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Heh, and one of them got primaried. The other, of course, has been out of office for a decade.

  • tr (unverified)


    20 references to "Republican"

  • James X. (unverified)

    tr: Every single one of those references is from a quote, a description of someone else, or a description of an organization. He's very careful not to say he's a Republican.

    But he got caught when he was fundraising in the GOP primary.

  • Runtmg (unverified)

    Bush is a political leopard at this point much in the same way that Bill Clinton was for much of the Al Gore 2000 campaign. In time, Bush will be viewed by Republicans as the good ol' days.

    There is a bigger point, Smith is a flip flopper. He doesn't know where he stands except where it is politically correct to do so.

    Most politicians go through this on one level or another however the key is to not deliberately do so.

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    From a 2004 LA Times article (no free link available any more) reporting on a conference call for the Bush/Cheney campaign in which Gordon Smith participated:

    Later, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) accused Kerry of advocating socialism within the United States and appeasement overseas. "It's not John Kerry's fault that he looks French," Smith told reporters on the conference call arranged by the Bush campaign. "But it is his fault that he wants to pursue policies that have us act like the French. He advocates all kinds of additional socialism at home, appeasement abroad, and what that means is weakness for the future." Some Republicans have referred jokingly to Kerry's ability to speak French and his physical appearance, but rarely has the reference found its way onto the campaign trail.

    Doesn't sound so bipartisan to me.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Good job saving that one from the memory hole, Darrel. Nice reminder that Republicans have been mindlessly parroting big words they don't know like "appeasement" for years. I know "he hates Kerry" probably isn't the strongest GE message, but it will at least resonate with a segment of Dems otherwise credulous of his "Moderate! Independent! Bipartisan!" snowjob.

    I know he votes with Bush 90% of the time. Is any of the remaining 10% to the right of Bush? (Or, put more broadly, is there any topic on which Smith is to the right of Bush?)

  • Unrepentant Liberal (unverified)

    And don't forget his shining little moment as a behind the scenes participant with various Bush Administration members in causing the Klamath River salmon disaster. Every Environmentalist, commercial and sport fisherman should be on the war path against "Salmon-killer" Smith this election. Moderate-non-republican, my a#&.

  • Murphy (unverified)

    All this is true, but if the corporate media acquiesces in Smith's Three-Card Monte, he's home free . . .unless the Democratic groundswell reaches the tipping point, and wipes out all but the safest republican seats. Then -- he's toast.

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    James, I didn't have to look too far for the Smith quote. I spent a good portion of August 2004 on Smith's participation in that call, first pointing out that the Oregonian -- carrying Smith's bipartisan water as usual -- hadn't mentioned the remarks in their blurb, even though the Times had noted them for their rarity "on the campaign trail." Then I made sure Willamette Week got them. They gave Smith a Rogue of the Week. After that and other publicity, Smith ended up having to address his anti-French comments in the Oregonian. As someone with French heritage, by 2004 I was pretty pissed off about the whole thing.

    You're right, I don't think decrying Smith's criticism of Kerry is a useful tack to take on this, but I do believe that in a time when the "appeasement" tag is being hung on Obama, it (and other of his comments) could be used to make Smith look a lot less bipartisan than his ads make him seem.

    Whether his calling someone like Kerry a socialist makes Smith just seem deluded is difficult for me to judge. Perhaps a lot of people saw the married-to-a-billionaire, centrist Democrat Kerry as a socialist.

  • James X. (unverified)

    Oh, I just answered my own question. On Smith's $11 billion handout to Pfizer:

    Treasury Secretary John W. Snow objected that the measure would unfairly benefit multinational corporations over domestic firms, while White House economists said it would produce no substantial economic benefit.

    When the Bush administration calls you too cozy to corporations...

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    "Oh, I just answered my own question. On Smith's $11 billion handout to Pfizer:"

    Novick hammered Smith on this repeatedly. It should be one of Merkley's keys to describing where Smith's priorities lie on health care. It's an impressively stark contrast. I bet steve would even let him use the Viagra joke. :)

  • Gordon Smith News (unverified)

    Gordon Smith has managed to stay under the radar but there is Gordon Smith news out there, how well news facts about Gordon Smith end up getting publicized will depend largely on grass roots efforts, Merkley is unlikely to have the corporate cash to compete with the ad wars.

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