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Gap thins between governor hopefuls

Statewide poll also shows surprising support for sales tax

Democrat Ted Kulongoski leads Republican Kevin Mannix by 8 percentage points in the race for governor, according to a new statewide poll conducted for the Portland Tribune.

The survey also showed some support for a sales tax, which is not on the ballot. The poll showed 45 percent of Oregon voters opposing a sales tax and 43 percent in favor. Oregonians have defeated the sales tax idea nine times.

The sales tax did better in the poll than the temporary income tax increase placed on the Jan. 28 ballot by the Legislature. The poll showed 54 percent in opposition to the measure and 38 percent in favor.

In the poll, Kulongoski was favored by 45 percent, while Mannix had 37 percent, with 17 percent undecided. Libertarian Tom Cox received the support of 1 percent.

Two other recent polls also showed a close gubernatorial race. A poll conducted for The Oregonian and KATU (2) from Oct. 2 to Oct. 6 showed Kulongoski leading Mannix 45 percent to 41 percent, and a poll for KGW (8) conducted Sept. 23 to Sept. 28 had Kulongoski up 42 percent to 36 percent.

'If Kevin Mannix wins this, it will go down as one of the greater upsets in recent Oregon gubernatorial history,' said Robert Eisinger, professor of political science at Lewis & Clark College. 'He's never been in the lead and still isn't. But it appears Ted Kulongoski's lead is shrinking, or shrinking slightly.'

'This is the trend we've been watching since the end of the primary,' said Mike Beard, Mannix's press secretary. 'Most polls showed Kevin down. Since then we've been steadily climbing, while Ted's been flat. We're within the margin of error.'

A close showing in a few polls Ñ especially with a margin less than 10 points Ñ can invigorate a campaign and bring a rush of new contributions.

'Kevin is not the kind of Republican you think about winning statewide in Oregon,' said Del Ali, president of Research 2000. 'He's closer to the right than the center. But that nuance hasn't hurt him. Mannix is in the game.'

He has his work cut out for him, though. The poll showed women supporting Kulongoski 49 percent to 32 percent for Mannix and unaffiliated voters siding with Kulongoski 48 percent to 31 percent for Mannix. And time is short as ballots go in the mail next Friday.

Kulongoski's support for the temporary income tax hike, put on the January ballot to help balance the state budget, may have pushed voters to Mannix, Eisinger said. And abortion remains an issue. Fifty-two percent of poll respondents said they want to agree with a candidate on abortion; 40 percent said it wasn't a major factor.

'It's natural for it to be close,' said Kristen Grainger, communications director for Kulongoski. 'Both candidates have spent $1 million, and it will be more before it's over.'

Poll respondents also showed displeasure with the state Legislature, which met a record five times this year. In the poll, 55 percent gave legislators fair or poor marks and 36 percent said they did a good or excellent job. That may not translate into political punishment. Only 26 percent said the special sessions would make them less likely to re-elect their state legislator, while 57 percent said it would have no impact.

Support for sales tax

The biggest surprise in the poll, however, may be the sales tax results. A rock-solid principle of Oregon politics holds that supporting a sales tax means political death, even when not on the ballot. This year, both Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., and Mannix have tried to tie their opponents to support for a sales tax. Oregon voters, after all, have defeated it numerous times, most recently in 1993 when it lost 3-to-1. And that was a good showing compared to other years.

In a followup poll question, 41 percent of the sales tax opponents said they could favor it if the state income tax were proportionately reduced. However, 35 percent still opposed the sales tax and 26 percent were undecided.

Eisinger cautioned that a poll is different than an election, which would bring organized opposition. The poll, he added, comes amid fiscal uncertainties for the state.

'It's not like this is a new issue,' he said. 'For some, anti-sales tax is a religion, and this will require more members to go to the pews. This is not a battle the nonsales-taxers will take lightly. They will mobilize in greater numbers and in louder voices than normal.'

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