Statewide voter registration by party

October 2018

Democrats: 983,907

Non-Affiliated: 881,100

Republicans: 711,797

Independent: 125,797

Other: 64,340

Total: 2,766,941

Source: Oregon Secretary of State

Election night 2018 was pretty much a disaster for the Oregon Republican Party. Now, the GOP has to decide what direction to take heading toward the 2020 election.

“Republicans have to pick whether they want to continue to try to win statewide by moving to the center, or be ideologically pure and move further to the right,” said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University.

Republicans must choose between a policy of cooperation or confrontation.

For Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, the conservative radio talk show host-turned-lawmaker, the choice is simple.

“This move to the left, it’s not working so far,” Post said. “Why don’t we try the other way and see what happens. It can’t be worse. And really, whether you lose by 6 percent or 60 percent, you still lose.”

The debate was set off by the election last month that delivered a cascade of bad news for the state GOP.

After some political analysts said the race for governor was a “toss-up,” Gov. Kate Brown won a comfortable victory over Republican Knute Buehler, the House representative from Bend.

In the House, Democrats won 38 of 60 seats, matching their highest total ever. The previous times were 1974 — right after Watergate — and twice during the height of the Great Depression.

In the Senate, Democrats picked up a seat to give them an 18-12 margin, just enough to pass tax measures without Republican votes.

A quartet of initiatives backed by many Republicans were shot down by voters.

Brown, a Democrat, called the night’s results a “slam dunk.”

The stakes are even higher in 2020. The Legislature that emerges from the election two years from now will be in charge of reapportionment of legislative districts. That may include a possible new congressional district — Oregon’s sixth.

The GOP must find statewide candidates for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democrat Jeff Merkley.

The attorney general and treasurer offices will also be on the ballot.

The lone statewide office held by a Republican, secretary of state, is also up for election in 2020. It’s held by Dennis Richardson, who has been diagnosed brain cancer.

There are few Republicans with major statewide name recognition, among them Richardson, Buehler and U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River. Walden is the lone Republican among the state’s delegation to Washington, D.C.

Walden declined earlier calls for him to run for the U.S. Senate or governor, preferring to build up seniority over 20 years in the U.S. House.

Buehler could run for governor again in 2022 when Brown can’t seek re-election due to term limits. While another statewide race is possible in the meantime, Buehler runs the risk of becoming a three-time-loser having lost races for the secretary of state in 2012 and governor this year.

How to stay relevant in the Legislature and gain traction with voters is a source of debate within the party.

As the party’s standard-bearer, Buehler ran as a pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ moderate Republican. He benefited from a primary vote split between conservatives Sam Carpenter and Greg Wooldridge that allowed him to move on to the general election by winning a plurality of the vote.

Buehler tried to build a coalition of centrist Republicans, non-affiliated voters and disaffected Democrats. It didn’t lead to victory. Buehler in his concession speech on election night tried to strike a conciliatory tone with Democrats.

“It’s time for Oregonians to unite and find common ground,” Buehler said. He suggested Democrats look at his campaign stances for ideas for the future.

“I hope my Democratic colleagues will look at that body of work, and please, steal shamelessly from us,” Buehler said. “They’re good ideas. We’re happy to help.”

With supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature, Democrats won’t likely need Republican votes or ideas. That has many Republicans saying its time to be vocal in dissent.

State GOP chairman Bill Currier said that political dividing lines have less to do with Republicans becoming more conservative than Democrats becoming more liberal.

“The Republican Party in Oregon will remain a powerful and relentless voice for the principles established by our party grassroots,” Currier said. “As the governing Democratic party in Salem surges further to left, few voices of moderation remain on the issues critical to Oregon’s future prosperity, fiscal stability, and even fundamental freedoms under threat that our citizens have assumed would always exist.”

Asked about the shallow pool of potential candidates for 2020 with statewide name recognition, Currier said it was too early to start lining up opponents for Democratic incumbents.

During the governor’s campaign, Buehler sought to distance himself from President Donald Trump. He neither sought or received Trump’s endorsement. Currier said the state party backed the president.

“As we have already been doing, the Oregon GOP will continue to advocate strongly for the president’s policies through 2020,” Currier said.

Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, the House Minority Leader for the 2019 session has admitted Republicans are not even “speed bumps” in the Democratic-dominated House. He said the GOP strategy will be to “tell our story” in vocal opposition. At the Oregon Leadership Summit in Portland on Monday, Wilson took aim at Brown’s proposed $2 billion “investment budget” as a tax grab.

“You just can’t feed the machine enough,” Wilson said of the Democrats.

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, said that while there will be plenty of times Republicans will oppose Democratic bills, they should try to find areas of common ground with Democrats when possible.

“Ronald Reagan said ‘The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally, not a 20 percent traitor’ — I think that is good advice,” Knopp said.

Political tides come and go. In 1937, the House had a 38-22 Democratic majority. Ten years later, it had a record 58-2 bulge in favor of Republicans.

Areturn to anything remotely like those kind of numbers for Republicans is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Whichever course they take — center or right — Republicans may end up with the same results, said Moore, the Pacific University professor.

“This election shows that more than ever, Oregon is a very Democratic state,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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