By Jeff Eager

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As a Seattle Mariners fan and an Oregon Republican, losing is not unfamiliar to me.

The Mariners are suffering through the longest playoff drought (16 seasons) of any major sports franchise.

Oregon Republicans are suffering through the longest gubernatorial losing streak in the U.S. (1982 was the last time Republicans won the governorship here).

Remarkably, the gubernatorial streak if anything understates the moribund condition of the Republican Party in Oregon.

After a particularly stinging series of losses in 2018, the party is in superminority status, and thus unable to stop Democrat-supported tax increases, in both houses of the legislature.

It’s been a bad run.

In politics, as in baseball, when things go badly the losing team introspects and tries to right the ship.

For Republicans, a lot of that introspection has been centered around how conservative the party should be, or rather how conservative it should try to force its candidates to be, and also how closely those Republicans should adhere to President Trump.

Those questions are of interest to people who are active in Republican politics, but they are of very little interest to anyone else in Oregon.

If anything, recent campaigns have demonstrated that no matter how moderate a candidate is on social issues like abortion, or how much a Republican distances himself from President Trump, Democrats will (sometimes effectively) tie the candidate to the more conservative positions, or to President Trump.

By focusing on social issues or President Trump, Republicans are playing on Democrats’ turf. Oregon voters are quite liberal on social issues and quite opposed to President Trump.

Furthermore, these questions distract from what is Republicans’ best argument: that under nearly unified Democrat control, Oregon’s state government has been a dismal failure for the people it is supposed to serve. The failures are familiar.

One of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country.

A public employee retirement system severely in the red, gradually gobbling up funds that would go to schools, streets, police, fire and services for the elderly.

Rural communities with too few jobs and urban areas with too expensive housing.

The most state tax revenue ever but a big budget shortfall and ever-increasing taxes.

The growing humanitarian and livability crisis of homelessness.

True, Republicans had a role in creating some of these problems, but the silver lining of a historic losing streak is that the other guy takes most of the blame for stuff that goes wrong.

These are problems that are felt by every Oregonian regardless of party. They are problems that Democrats cannot solve because solving them requires policies that are anathema to Democrats’ donor base of public employee unions, environmental groups and civil liberties organizations.

On the contrary, solving Oregon’s big problems unites Republicans and can appeal to nonaffiliated voters and even some moderate Democrats — precisely the formula that can lead to victory. It is by focusing on solving these problems that Republicans can win in Oregon, and, more importantly, materially improve the lives of millions of Oregonians.

Astute readers will respond, wasn’t that the campaign that Knute Buehler just ran, and lost? Yes, pretty much.

But the thing about politics, as with baseball, is that there are many variables that contribute to an outcome.

Last year, Buehler and other Republicans in Oregon and nationwide were running against an historic electoral headwind associated with a voter backlash against President Trump.

It would be a mistake for Republicans in Oregon to veer from a laser-like focus on fixing real problems for Oregonians because they misconstrue the outcome of the 2018 election.

The political winds will shift, and when they do, Republicans maximize their chances of stringing some hits together and getting a run or two over the plate.

— Jeff Eager is an attorney and political consultant in Bend, and formerly served as Bend’s mayor.

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