WASHINGTON — In 1980, long before Oregon began consistently voting Democratic in presidential elections, President Jimmy Carter visited the state three times as he sought a second term.
Despite Carter’s efforts, Oregon went for Ronald Reagan and helped sweep him into the White House.
In the 32 years since, sitting presidents have visited Oregon only 21 times, according to research by Brendan Doherty, a political scientist at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of “The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign.”
When President Barack Obama made his first trip to Oregon in 2010, it marked the first presidential visit to the state in six years. Since then, he has visited Oregon twice, in 2011 and 2012, according to Doherty, who tracked presidential travel back to 1977. Doherty’s research did not include candidates for president, only the actual officeholders.
By comparison, Obama has visited Colorado 17 times, including 11 times this year, while Nevada has hosted him 20 times, including 11 times in 2012.
These figures reinforce the swing state status of those two states, and also attest to the Obama campaign’s conclusion that Oregon is safely in the Democratic column.
“We have seen an increase in the amount of time that presidents have devoted to electoral concerns over the last 3 1/2 decades,” Doherty said.
“They disproportionately spend time in places that matter to their own re-election.”
Several other factors account for the lack of presidential visits, he said.
“Certainly distance is a factor. Presidents are much more likely to go to places that they can go to and be back on the same day,” he said.
But Washington state, which has a similar voting history as Oregon, with both states voting blue in the last six elections and red in the four before that, has had 40 presidential visits since 1977 to Oregon’s 27.
Naturally, presidents gravitate toward major population centers, and San Francisco and Seattle may be more attractive West Coast alternatives to the smaller Portland, he said.
Still, when he analyzed the numbers, Oregon was disproportionately undervisited, receiving fewer visits than its population predicted, he said.
Meredith Wood Smith, the chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, said she doesn’t feel at all slighted by the relatively few number of times Obama has visited.
“I think that the states that he’s had to focus on are clearly the most competitive states,” she said. “I don’t feel slighted by that. I think he’s doing what he has to do to win re-election, particularly in a campaign season.”
Another factor is the relative stability of Oregon’s congressional delegation, Doherty said.
When presidents travel to do fundraisers, three times out of four they are going to bring in money not for themselves or their party, but for fellow Democrats or Republicans who are seeking another office.
Oregon, with a relative lack of highly competitive congressional races, has presented fewer opportunities for presidents to help out, he said.
But besides the intensity and urgency of campaigns, presidents have other reasons to put distance between themselves and the Oval Office, he said.
“They also travel to meet the people they govern, to give speeches at key events, to just get out of Washington,” he said. “Multiple presidents have talked about how therapeutic it is to get out of Washington and meet people.”