SALEM — Elections come fast and furious in Oregon. It’s less than a year until the 2018 election, when Oregon will choose a governor.
But the political marathon has months to go until that final day. Voters will see a lot of electoral activity in the meantime.
Here’s the menu for coming months:
December: Counting cash
The end of 2017 is important to a candidate’s fundraising efforts, a time when contributions can be measured for the year. It’s especially important for gubernatorial hopeful Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, to rack up as big a war chest as possible as a hedge against any Republicans who might be tempted to get into the race early in 2018. It shows contributors on the sidelines that he has the financial clout to make it a race against Gov. Kate Brown.
January: Special election
The special election on Jan. 23 arguably has the most impact of any vote next year. It’s when Oregonians will vote on Measure 101.
A yes vote confirms the Legislature’s decision to tax health providers to generate $550 million to stabilize the individual insurance market and balance the state’s Medicaid budget. A no vote would delete or delay the taxes.
Earlier in the month will be the final set of “Committee Days,” when lawmakers come to Salem to discuss issues that likely will end up as bills the next month.
February: Salem session
The Legislature begins a 35-day session scheduled to convene Feb. 5 and adjourn March 9. If Measure 101 is rejected by voters, lawmakers will scramble to shore up the Medicaid system. Otherwise, Democrats say they want to use the session to move a “clean air” plan involving a “cap-and-invest” program for polluters or a job-retraining program. Republicans would prefer to deal with reducing the $25 billion deficit in the PERS program for public sector workers. At the end of the session, Brown will sign or veto bills.
March: Candidate deadline
Buehler and Brown announced they were running as soon as the window opened in September. More than 150 candidates have filed for state offices, judgeships and Congress.
There are many incumbents who are waiting until next year to decide. But dawdlers, beware. March 6 is the final deadline to get in or stay out.
Among the big question marks pending: Will a big- name Republican get into the governor’s race? Who among Bend Republicans will run for the House seat that Buehler is vacating? And will Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, run for re-election?
Talk of a primary challenge for Brown has evaporated over the past six months, but anything is possible until the window closes. Deschutes County Republicans recall when former House Republican leader Tim Knopp jumped into the 2012 Republican state Senate race at the last minute and swamped incumbent Chris Telfer in the primary.
April: Campaign central
Candidates make the final push to win their party’s nomination, with voters finally paying attention. There will be plenty demanding their attention.
Campaigns increasingly use social media to get their message out to where voters are: Facebook and Google in particular. Some of the traditional campaigning techniques survive: negative television ads, robocalls from candidates and yard signs so you know where your neighbors stand.
In state legislative and local races, the smiling office seeker willing to chat with you is still a common course of action — especially for challengers.
May: Speed bump or brick wall?
Voters get their first say with the state’s primaries on May 15. The biggest question of the day will be whether Bend businessman Sam Carpenter or another conservative yet to enter the race can knock off Buehler in the race to face Brown for governor.
Although Buehler has been running his campaign as if he is one-on-one with Brown, primary voters have been known to trip up incumbents and anoint insurgents.
Primaries are party affairs — you have to be registered as a Republican to vote in the Republican primary. That leaves “not affiliated” voters on the sidelines, a group that in some areas make up a third of ballots in the general election.
For incumbents in districts with lopsided voter registration advantages favoring their party, they get to find out who will be on the ballot with them in November. But in contested or open races, nails can be bitten down to the nub before it is all over.
June: Rally troop, raise funds
If Buehler wins the primary, he’ll have the resources of the state and national Republican parties behind him. The primaries will free Republican party-affiliated groups to contribute to the Republican nominee for governor.
That’s no small deal — the Republican Governors Association gave Chris Dudley a $2.4 million contribution in 2010.
Brown has enjoyed a trifecta of resources: the governor’s office, her Team Kate campaign apparatus, as well as support out of the gate from the Democratic Party of Oregon.
Nearly all races become one-on-one contests between the Democrat and Republican. But as the 2016 race for treasurer showed, a strong third-party candidate can siphon off enough votes to hobble a major party candidate in a close race.
July-August: Shake my hand, hear my voice
Buehler has kept his campaign focused on fundraising and making a select number of appearances at invitation-only events. But summer is when candidates can hit major events, such as the Estacada Timber Festival, Oregon Brewers Festival, Oregon State Fair and the Pendleton Round-Up.
September-October: Big money time
After Labor Day, it is gut and wallet check time for campaigns. How close are races? Will more money help (answer almost always: yes)? In 2016, this is when Michael Bloomberg dropped a $250,000 contribution to Brown. It’s when Dudley received the GOP governors’ group money.
If polls show Buehler in striking distance, contributions will come in like a tidal wave since Oregon has no limit on the amount a donor can give.
November: Democracy by mail
On Nov. 6, all that is left is for voters to decide.
With 60 state House, 30 state Senate and five congressional races, there is bound to be a surprise somewhere in Oregon that night. The winners will party. The losers will give concession speeches. Plans will start for swearing-in ceremonies. Lots of time for what-ifs from those who come close only to lose.
But little time for rest. It will be less than two months until the 2019 session of the Legislature. The pros will be plotting strategy for 2020 — a presidential election year. Also on the ballot: The U.S. Senate seat held by Jeff Merkley. And don’t forget, all the state House and half the state Senate — the last chance for parties to change the political mix prior to taking up reapportionment.
— Reporter: 541-525-5280, email@example.com