Recent polling suggests that Republican challenger Knute Buehler is in a dead heat with Gov. Kate Brown, who enjoys the advantage of incumbency as well as a significant voter-registration edge. State Democratic leaders must be in full panic mode. How else can you explain the party’s oh-so-revealing attack Tuesday on Buehler’s Tualatin apartment?

Buehler, who also represents Bend in the state House, has been completely open about the fact that he’s rented an apartment in the Portland suburb. He has done so, he explained to The Bulletin’s editorial board last week, because running for governor requires him to be in close proximity to the state’s population centers on the I-5 corridor.

For similar reasons, lawmakers who represent districts on the east side of the Cascades often rent rooms in Salem when the Legislature is in session. Oregon is a big, big state, and daily commutes to the House and Senate simply aren’t an option for people representing rural districts, as they are for people representing Portland and Eugene.

Nonetheless, the state Democratic Party announced Tuesday that it had asked Secretary of State Dennis Richardson to investigate Buehler for supposedly moving out of his district and, thus, making himself ineligible to represent it. Party Chair Jeanne Atkins urged voters to “question the integrity of a candidate who draws a state paycheck but has turned his back on his constituents.”

It would be tempting to dismiss Atkins’ stunt as merely witless. After all, Buehler isn’t running for re-election to the House in any case. The Legislature isn’t currently in session. His primary residence remains in Bend.

And the suggestion that Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon married to an ophthalmologist, is bending the rules in order to draw a citizen-legislator’s paycheck is laughable.

If the arrangement were so shady, why would Buehler tell everyone about it?

The apparent intent of Atkins’ attack is to suggest to voters that Buehler is a slippery and rootless carpet-bagger.

She and her party colleagues should have given that approach a bit more thought.

Only one of the two main contenders in this race was born in Oregon, grew up in Oregon and graduated from an Oregon public university (Oregon State). It ain’t Brown, though she did earn a law degree from Lewis and Clark College in Portland.

But the real problem with the Democratic Party’s decision to fault Buehler for renting a Tualatin apartment is the geographic snobbery it accidentally reveals. Democratic leaders from the I-5 corridor typically take great pains to appear concerned about Oregonians on both sides of the Cascades. They, at least publicly, lament the urban-rural divide that has long characterized Oregon’s politics and its culture.

And now Jeanne Atkins comes along and accidentally tells the truth: The state Democratic Party and its fleet of urban legislators don’t actually think much about anything outside the I-5 corridor, much less care about it. With the slightest imagination, after all, Atkins would know that it’s absolutely necessary for a gubernatorial candidate from a place like Bend – or Ontario or John Day or wherever – to maintain a secondary dwelling in the Portland area. And to spend a lot of time there. That’s where many of Oregon’s voters are.

Oregon’s geography and its development patterns are very real barriers to Buehler in his pursuit of statewide office.

It’s ironic that state Democrats have faulted him for doing what’s necessary to overcome these barriers given their focus on removing barriers to voting. Is easy participation in the political process good for everyone, in their view, or is it good only when Democrats stand to gain?

It’s doubly ironic that the person howling the loudest about Buehler’s apartment, Atkins, only recently served as secretary of state, in which capacity she ostensibly defended the fairness of state elections. Yes, we’re laughing, too.

Atkins’ supposed concern for the Bend residents on whom Buehler “has turned his back” is touching, we suppose. She should rest assured, however, that most of us on this side of the Cascades understand the need for Buehler’s Tualatin crash pad and are, in fact, just fine with it.

We’re also quite capable of deciding for ourselves which gubernatorial candidate is most likely to represent our interests effectively.

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