Mayor 2012: My! What an Interesting Week

Kyle Curtis Facebook

Surely mine wasn't the only one who's head was spinning in response to the electoral maneuverings, gossip, and political navel-gazing of the last week. Evan Manvel did an excellent job of providing an end of the week recap, and as you can see from the long list of bullet points in his piece, there was lot to digest over the weekend. (Along with the rest of my daughter's Halloween candy. It's an important life lesson for her to learn. At least I wasn't around when a group of Tea Partiers took all my neighbor's candy only to tell trick or treaters that my neighbor needed to work harder so he would be able to have candy to give out.)

Anyways, in response to the past week's political events, it appears that some narratives are beginning to take some nebulous shape- especially in regards to Portland's mayor's race. Yes, yes, I know that most attention today is going to be placed on the showdown between Brad Avakian-Suzanne Bonamici to have the pleasure of denying Rob Cornilles a Congress seat (once again) or otherwise focused out of state to Ohio where Governor John Kasich's anti-union bill will be the first casualty of the Occupy Movement. But as there is still plenty of time before the mayoral primaries, allowing for these nebulous narratives to either take shape or dissipate entirely, here are some thoughts I had after digesting the events of last week (and way too much candy corn....)

A Tale of Two- Or Four- Polls Last week two polls were released- one commissioned by the Portland Business Alliance, the other by the Eileen Brady campaign- each which provided conflicting narratives regarding the current state of the mayor's race. As I sat to write this, it was revealed by Kari Chisholm- who must do such things as watch the local news to keep on top of this stuff- that another two sets of polls were released, both conducted by SurveyUSA/KATU. Kari's piece includes a nice graph of the results of the different polls.

With the initial release of the PBA poll, it seemed to indicate that there was a clear lack of a front-runner so far in the mayor's race. The PBA poll also concluded that voters wanted a mayor who would focus on "jobs and core services" as opposed to "sustainability, bikes, and equal rights." (Call me crazy, but the last I checked it was the responsibility of the municipal government to insure that multiple modes of transportation are available to ensure a congestion-free commute and also was responsible for the handling of locally produced waste, which includes food scraps.) Clearly, while it is great to say that the PBA poll is "independent" because it was unaffiliated with a campaign, there is an agenda implicit in the PBA poll. This may explain why it exhibits no clear front-runner, as none of the main candidates support the PBA's agenda of focusing on the "core services"- that the PBA approves of. The results of the PBA poll had all three of the main candidates within a standard margin of error of each other- Brady polling at 15%, Hales at 13%, Smith at 9%- with a sizable plurality of those (22%) providing the answer "Dear God, anyone but these three...!" (Not exactly those words, but certainly that sentiment.)

At the end of last week, the Eileen Brady campaign released poll results that showed- surprise!- that she was a clear front-runner, receiving support from 26% of the voters polled, over 16% in support of Hales, and 10% of Smith. These results are dramatically different from the results of the PBA poll, but there has to be a degree of skepticism of any poll released by a campaign. (Although, tellingly, the Hales campaign did not release the results of the poll that they commissioned, which may inadvertently lead one to believe their results are similar to the Brady's campaign.)

In response to the PBA's poll, Oregonian columnist Steve Duin offered a critical assessment of Brady's poor showing, saying that "Brady would seem reasonably well-positioned with voters who have little interest in adding another white, male, semi-familiar face to City Council. But Brady has already spent almost $149,000 without putting a lick of breathing room between her opponents. She has $93,000 in cash left in her campaign account, barely more than either Hales or Smith." So it must've been really exciting for the Brady campaign to release the results of their poll and be able to tell Duin what he could do with them.

The SurveyUSA poll could serve as a good example of which one of last week's previous polls should be accepted and which should be viewed skeptically. The fact that it tracks very close (Brady 23%, Hales 19%, Smith 14%) with the results of Brady's poll provides a degree of independent support for Brady's poll and indicates that the PBA's poll is the outlier, "core services" and all.

With her ability to top 20 percent, it's certainly fair to consider Brady the early front-runner of the Portland mayoral race. However, Hales is polling at 19% in the SurveyUSA poll, and if his actual numbers are closer to that than the 16% recorded by the Brady camp (and the SurveyUSA's four-point gap versus the Brady poll's ten-point gap), then he is clearly a close second and there might be some credence to Duin saying that Brady does not have a "lick of breathing room" between her opponents.

In fact, what I find perhaps most interesting in these polls is the showing of Jefferson Smith. Considering that he joined the race many months after Hales and Brady's spring announcements, the fact that he is two points behind Hales in one poll and eight points behind Brady in another is astounding. This showing indicates that Smith has a strong organizational effort, and it remains to be seen whether he can muster a stronger showing in future polls- continuing to narrow that gap- as the race goes on.

I also want to say something about endorsements in political campaigns, especially during the primary process. One Saturday morning I was listening to Stephanie Miller on the radio and she breathlessly announced that former House Speaker Dennis Hastert has endorsed Mitt Romney. "Well," said Stephanie. "THAT's going to push Romney over the top." I don't mean to minimize political endorsements by any means, but looking at the websites of the three main candidates, I am assuming that Brady has been getting the bulk of the endorsements. I say "assuming" because she lists the names of 19 elected officials who have all ready committed their support to Brady at this early stage of the primary process, while I was unable to find any similar list of high-profile endorsements on the websites of Hales and Smith. So, I'm assuming that Brady has been receiving the most endorsements, because without any hard proof otherwise, Hales and Smith might be getting more endorsements- and they just might be keeping them a secret. (Again, unlikely.)

Also, consider three of Brady's most recent endorsements: from Bill Bradbudy (a respected former Secretary of State who lost in his bid against Kitzhaber during 2010's Democratic primary), Avel Gordly (a former State Senator and respected leader in the African-American community, who also helped lead the failed effort to recall Mayor Adams), and Tom Potter (former police chief who is also widely viewed as a failed mayor). Will any of these endorsements register with voters by the time the actual May primaries rolls around and voters are actually paying attention? The key endorsements I'm looking for are whether- and who- Earl Blumenauer and Jeff Cogen would support a particular candidate in the mayor's primary. Both Earl and Jeff worked with Hales during his time as a city commissioner- would they support their old colleague, if they decided to offer an endorsement? Or would they support either of Hales' opponents instead?

The "public safety" vote At a campaign kick-off event at Restoration Hardware last September, Hales highlighted public safety as a key issue of his mayoral campaign. Brady specifically mentions public safety in her vow to provide a "Fresh Start" to Portland voters. On his website, Smith states emphatically that "No city can neglect public safety and still thrive." Yet, despite all this attention being paid by the candidates on public safety, the biggest rumor of this past week was that Police Chief Mike Reese was interested in a potential mayoral run. (An interest that can only be piqued with the second of SurveyUSA's polls that would immediately propel Reese as a front-runner with 20% support, a tick above Brady- indicating a dissatisfaction by Portland voters with the current crop of candidates.)

Indeed, the controversial shootings and other actions committed by the Portland Police Department in recent years give valid questions to the role that a trained, trusted, reliable, and respected police force plays in a "livable community." And due to the fact that none of the three main candidates has solidly established themselves as a runaway frontrunner has certainly provided the opportunity for Chief Reese to look long and hard at a prospective mayoral run, providing an alternative candidate for the law-and-order, perhaps more conservative and business-friendly voters. (Which, if true, when you consider the private sector experience of both Hales and Brady, what is it about these two that does not appeal to Portland's business community?) The interesting thing about the fact that a rumored Chief Reese run has developed in the first place indicates that the candidates' claims to focus on and prioritize on public safety are, for the most part, falling on deaf ears. Otherwise, there wouldn't be an opportunity for Chief Reese to be a prospective candidate. Hales has made mention of the relationship he has with former Police Chief Charles Moose, who became a national hero during the D.C. sniper case. But Moose's tenure as Portland police chief has long since passed. Indeed, Reese's potential candidacy indicates a lack of trust by the Portland police leadership and rank-and-file regarding the three main candidates.

However, a key question is how Reese would perform as a political candidate? As mentioned previously, by registering a poll showing just points behind his opponents despite being months behind his opponents campaign, Jefferson Smith has proved he has political muscle and could mount a formidable run for the mayor's office despite his delayed entry into the race. Certainly, the immediate 20% support that Chief Reese would enjoy if he jumped into the race only indicates a current level of dissatisfaction with the three main candidates. It would be up to him to both maintain and increase that support, and not squander it in a series of Rick Perry-esque/ Herman Cain-ish missteps on the campaign trail. That twenty percent Reese enjoys in the SurveyUSA poll may simply be due to name recognition because of the office he holds. At the same time, police chiefs that typically have their name in the papers are because they are controversial leaders under scrutiny or scandal (coughcough Derrick Foxworth coughcough) or self-serving potential pols. Chief Reese does not come across as either. Indeed, having served in his current position for nearly a year and a half, he doesn't have a huge scandal marring his track record. He also doesn't really have much of a track record at all. (Granted, the lack of a long list of public stances or controversial comments is what instantaneously translates into high approval rating.) Considering the outcome of the SurveyUSA poll that includes Reese as a prospective candidate that could be selected, it remains to be seen whether a Reese candidacy turns from a rumor to a reality, and how much political traction he would gain as a result.

Is anyone really paying attention? This seems like an odd question after I've written a rather large number of words on the mayor's race, but it's a fair question to ask. Eileen Brady has said her campaign director is comparing the current moment in the race to the "March before the May primary." But the poll results indicate otherwise. The polls are showing a large plurality of undecided voters- nearly half of those asked by the Brady campaign had nary a clue about who they'd support for mayor. Which shouldn't be much of a surprise considering just how early it is in the campaign season. (Which also brings up the necessary of why polls are being conducted, or collecting endorsements as well.) While there is, indeed, much interest in this race from the political navel-gazing crowd, the majority of Portland's voters have- for the most part- tuned the mayor's race out. And this simply may be due to the calendar than anything else. It's 2011, not an election year, and there really wouldn't be a big election at all this month if David Wu hadn't taken the ill-advised step to dress up in a tiger costume and send out texts pretending to be his kids.

Clearly, this lack of attention will change along with the calendar and people realize that 2012 is, indeed, an election year. Certainly, the candidates will work throughout the winter to position themselves favorably for the spring primary. Of course, due to the fact that a large plurality of voters either aren't paying attention or are not strongly supporting one of the current candidates all but guarantees that we won't see a repeat of the 2008 mayoral election when Sam Adams all but slept-walk into the office with token opposition. Instead, as the rumored candidacy of Chief Reese indicates, the 2012 mayor's race could have the potential to be a repeat of the 2004 race when practically any Portland citizen with a modicum of name recognition decided to run to replace Vera Katz. Indeed, once we have a politically astute news editor from the Mercury running (a Denis C. Theriault campaign, anyone?) or perhaps the campaign of an opinionated and politically active stripper (get Viva Las Vegas on the phone, stat!) then it cannot be denied that the 2012 Portland mayoral race has officially jumped the shark, California-style.

One final thing In the Oregonian's story on the poll released by the Brady campaign, there is a quote from the Hales campaign that was provided to add some perspective. In Hales' first race for City Council in 1992, he was polling at just six percent in the March before the May primary before winning the November general election. Hmmm. A political novice who has never been elected to public office overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to win the election. If anyone should take solace or inspiration from this story, it should be this guy: Max Bruum, the mayoral candidate whose name the local media is loathe to mention...

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    with a sizable plurality of those (22%) providing the answer "Dear God, anyone but these three...!" (Not exactly those words, but certainly that sentiment.)

    No, that's not quite right. The PBA poll offered up the choice of "Any other credible candidate". Voters will read into that, "My dream candidate who agrees with me on every issue and has all the personal qualities I'm looking for."

    It's kind of a nonsense thing to throw into a poll, and frankly I'm surprised that it only picked up 22%. After all, if you get your personal dream candidate, shouldn't every undecided voter move over?

    These [Brady poll] results are dramatically different from the results of the PBA poll

    No, not really. The candidates are in roughly the same proportions as in the Brady poll once you reallocate the numbers from the "any other credible candidate" option. Brady goes up a bit more in proportion, but nothing that can't be explained by margin of error and sample selection (which we know little about viz the PBA poll.)

    Those two polls and the two SurveyUSA polls actually all tell the same story: Eileen Brady has a slight lead on Charlie Hales, the voters don't yet know much about Jefferson Smith, and vast numbers of voters aren't paying attention yet.

    In other words, the race is wide open.

    Full disclosure: My firm built Eileen Brady's website. I speak only for myself.

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    It's kind of a nonsense thing to throw into a poll, and frankly I'm surprised that it only picked up 22%. After all, if you get your personal dream candidate, shouldn't every undecided voter move over?

    Good point! That option should be polling at 100%! If anything, the PBA poll should best simply be ignored.

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    To clarify, that was only one poll from SurveyUSA, just asking the ballot question twice with different candidate lists. Not two polls, which suggests different samples. The same group of 537 answered both questions.

    Why is KATU using likely voter counts? It's NOVEMBER. Should have gone with registered voters.

    This looks like a classic name recognition/who got the headlines result, from a sample of folks not paying entirely close attention. That sure was a lot of money spent to get to 23%!

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      Right. One poll, two questions.

      Which leads to the most interesting crosstabs of all - not provided by SurveyUSA: Among those who voted for Reese, where did the votes come from?

      SurveyUSA's analysis hints at it - "when Reese is in the race, he siphons votes directly from Hales" - but they don't provide the underlying data.

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    It was nice of you to mention the 19 year old running for Portland Mayor but you could at least spell his name right It's spelled B-r-u-m-m. Also was his name included in the surveys that you are touting? I have to believe that there have been a few people have heard of him.

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