SEASIDE — A solid base of candidates in low-level offices and a united party mean Republicans are poised to regain power in Oregon despite a drubbing in last year’s election that defied national trends, state GOP leaders and activists said Saturday.
Oregon Republicans met in Seaside for the annual three-day Dorchester Conference, hoping to refine their positions and engage the party faithful nearly two years before they try to pick up a seat in Washington.
Last year’s national wave that swept Republicans to power mostly missed Oregon, leaving Rep. Greg Walden as the state’s only Republican in Washington and giving the Governor’s Office to Democrat John Kitzhaber. The GOP doesn’t hold a single statewide office in Oregon.
“We gave it our best on the West Coast and we came up slightly short,” Walden said of November’s election. “But I’ll tell you what, we have another election coming up in not too long, and we’re out to add seats in the U.S. House of Representatives on the Republican side.”
Walden wasn’t the only Republican looking ahead. Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 Republican in the House, also sounded an optimistic tone in an address.
“I don’t want to say we lost. We just started the journey,” McCarthy said. “It wasn’t for a lack of ideas or a lack of trying. This just wasn’t our time, and we’re going to keep on running.”
Despite falling short on statewide and congressional races, Republicans made strides in the state Legislature last year. They picked up seats in the Senate and tied Democrats in the House — not enough to give them control, but sufficient to block Democrats from passing legislation without GOP support.
Oregon hasn’t had a Republican governor since Vic Atiyeh left office in 1987. Despite disappointing results in top-of-the-ticket ticket races last year, Atiyeh told The Associated Press that he’s “more heartened” about the state of the Republican Party than he’s been in a long time, because he respects GOP chair Allen Alley and because the party has developed a deep bench of talented Republicans who will be well-positioned to run for office down the road.
“We have this awful image as being only for the millionaires, and (Democrats) have an image of being for the little guy,” Atiyeh said. “I’ve been around long enough to know neither one is true.”
Among Republicans at Dorchester, there was widespread agreement that the party is benefiting from new cooperation in place of infighting that used to split warring factions.
“I think the movement is continuing to progress in this state,” Mannix said.
Kitzhaber narrowly won the gubernatorial race in November, topping Republican Chris Dudley 50 percent to 48 percent. Dudley won handily in eastern Oregon but was trounced in heavily Democratic Multnomah county.
The Dorchester conference began in 1965 when Bob Packwood, then a state representative, organized a meeting for Oregon Republicans to discuss the future of the party at Dorchester House in Lincoln City.
It has grown into a tradition for Republican activists and a chance for them to meet elected officials and party officials.
“The pendulum has swung so the Republicans have reached the center more and Democrats have walked away from it,” said Chris Matson, a Democrat and Eugene political consultant who works for candidates from both parties.