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Happy voters can use a push

Are residents of Portland a little too rosy in their outlook? A recent poll surprisingly shows that Portland voters, by a 2-to-1 ratio, say the city is headed in the right direction.

We wouldn't want to dissuade people from this general mood of optimism, but we would point out that too much contentment - if it leads to complacency - is not a good thing.

The public opinion research firm Davis, Hibbitts and Midghall Inc. conducted the poll on behalf of the Portland Tribune and KPTV (12).

Fifty-six percent of likely voters randomly surveyed said that Portland was on the right track, compared with 29 percent who said it wasn't. Another 15 percent professed not to know.

The poll's positive numbers are boosted, no doubt, by a local economy that has slowed some, but that by many economic measurements continues to do reasonably well.

Candidates can build on optimism

We suspect that the relatively high satisfaction rating offered by Portland voters could be a defining factor in the May 20 election for mayor.

Rather than emphasizing the need for abrupt or substantial change in where Portland is headed, leading mayoral candidates Sam Adams and Sho Dozono instead must challenge Portlanders to imagine how much greater this city can be if it doesn't rest on past accomplishments.

Based on traditional political wisdom, Adams, as a high-profile incumbent commissioner, could be the beneficiary of a satisfied electorate. The Tribune-KPTV poll bears this out by giving him an early 41 percent-to-20 percent advantage over Dozono.

But campaigns are all about winning on Election Day. To win, Dozono must capture another 30 percent of the electorate, while Adams must secure only another 9 percent. Both will reach out to the large number of undecided voters while also trying to change some voters' early preference.

To close the gap, Dozono might be tempted to drive Adams' numbers down by running a negative campaign. But we believe such negativity would backfire in an environment in which so many people say that they're pleased with the community's direction.

Aspire to more than simple satisfaction

A much healthier campaign would be one that inspired citizens to think bigger about Portland's future and about how a satisfied, good community can become an aspiring, great community.

We think the opportunity for greatness exists even though the survey revealed a lack of voter concern about some of the major issues Portland is confronting - education, traffic congestion, population growth, economic development, homelessness.

None of these issues jumped out in the survey as essential priorities in the minds of citizens. We wonder, though, if this mood won't quickly change if the economy, as many people expect, spins downward.

Looking ahead, the mayoral candidates should use their campaigns as an opportunity to show how they would steer Portland away from future peril and provide forward-thinking leadership.

For Adams and Dozono, it's a rare opportunity to engage Portlanders at a time when they aren't overly distracted by impending concerns, and instead focus the community on how it can become an even better place to live, work, play and invest in great outcomes.