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Primary could be warmup for election runoffs in the fall

Polls point to close, expensive campaigns for mayor, Clackamas County posts
by: Nick Fochtman, Only two of the three major candidates for Portland mayor are likely to survive the May 15 Primary Election and make it into a November run-off. Who won't survive the cut? Will it be (from left) Eileen Brady, Jefferson Smith or Charlie Hales?

With only a few days to go before the primary election, the big question in some of the most important races is not who will win, but which two candidates will face off in the general election.

Three recent independent polls strongly suggest no candidate in the Portland mayor's race will eceive more than 50 percent of the vote and win it outright in the May 15 primary. It is unclear which candidates will face off in the Nov. 6 general election, however.

Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith were essentially tied at slightly less than 30 percent each in two of the polls. One was conducted by DHM Research for KPTV and OPB. The other was conducted by SurveyUSA for KATU. An Elway Research poll conducted for The Oregonian and KGW showed Hales and Smith tied for the lead with less than 30 percent each and Brady trailing with 16 percent -- the only poll taken at any point in the campaign to show her in third place.

Political science professor Jim Moore is not surprised that none of the three candidates has a commanding lead.

"They're all appealing to limited constituencies. Brady is the businesswoman who wants to create jobs, Hales is the experienced politician who understands the nuts and bolts of city government, and Smith is the young man with progressive ideas," says Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University.

Given the closeness, the final results will likely be decided by which campaigns can best identify their supporters and make sure they mail in their ballots or deliver them to the delivery sites set up on election day.

Clackamas County races

The three polls also suggest the City Council Position 1 race may not be decided until November. Two show incumbent Amanda Fritz leading with slightly less than 35 percent and her most serious challenger, state Rep. Mary Nolan, with 33 percent and 25 percent. The third shows Nolan leading 34 percent and Fritz trailing with 31 percent.

Fritz started out with more name familiarity, having run citywide for the council twice on public campaign funds, the last time successfully in 2008. But after Portland voters repealed the Voter Owned Election program, Fritz voluntarily limited her contributions to $50, giving the less-known Nolan a chance to raise much more money in her challenge.

The same thing might happen in all three of the Clackamas County commission races that could fundamentally change the relationship among the region's local governments. Each race includes candidates who support and oppose such regional land-use policies as expanded transit lines. There are four candidates in two of the races and three candidates in the third, making runoff elections mathematically possible in all of them.

In the race for the commission chair position, both incumbent Charlotte Lehan and state Rep. Dave Hunt support continued county funding for the Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail line, while former Wilsonville Mayor John Ludlow opposes it.

In the Position 3 race, former state Sen. Martha Schrader supports continued light-rail funding while Jim Knapp co-sponsored the initiative petition requiring a public vote before county officials can commit money to the project.

In the Position 4 race, incumbent Commissioner Jamie Damon supports continued light-rail funding while opponents former state Rep. Tootie Smith worked for the public vote and former Oregon City Commissioner Dan Holladay questioned the project.

Some races will end in primary

Statewide, incumbent Treasurer Ted Wheeler is facing no Democratic or Republican opposition.

Either former Oregon appellate Judge Ellen Rosenblum or former interim Oregon U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton will be elected Oregon attorney general. They are the only Democrats in the primary race, and there is no declared Republican candidate. (Republicans will likely mount a write-in campaign for an attorney general candidate in the fall.)

Although there are two candidates in the Oregon Labor Commissioner race, incumbent Brad Avakian and state Sen. Bruce Starr, a change in state law pushed the election onto the November ballot.

Perhaps the most contested Metro Council race is for District 5, where five candidates are fighting for a vacant seat. Based on fundraising totals, the top two are Sam Chase, the former chief of staff to Portland Commissioner Nick Fish and current executive director of the Coalition of Community Health Clinics, and former educator and consultant Helen Ying. Three other candidates are in the race, reducing but not eliminating the chance that anyone will it outright in the primary.

Most legislative primary races are uncontested, and Democrats usually win in Portland-area districts in November. Democrats are fighting it out in two Oregon House primaries, however. In District 48, incumbent state Rep. Mike Shaufler is opposed by soon-to-retire teacher Jeff Reardon. And in District 29, retired Oregon Health and Science University professor Katie Riley is opposed by political consultant Ben Unger.

Winners will race Republican opponents in November.

Political consultant Steve Novick is widely expected to win the Portland City Council Position 4 seat on Tuesday because he carried Multnomah County in his unsuccessful race against Jeff Merkley for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2008.

Novick has also raised far more campaign money than the four other candidates in the race.

Mayor's race up for grabs

Tim Hibbitts of DHM Research says the top two Portland mayoral candidates may not be known until all the votes are counted.

"Each one of them can wake up every day believing they are going to come in first place or be voted off the island," Hibbitts says.

Hibbitts is not surprised that all three candidates are still in a position to move into a runoff election. That happened in two other council races when incumbents did not run for re-election in the past 16 years.

The first time was in 1996 primary, when lawyer Jim Francesconi, state Rep. Gail Shibley and City Hall staffer Erik Sten all received more than 20,000 votes. Francesconi ultimately defeated Shibley in the general election.

The next time was in the 2002 special election, when then-state Rep. Randy Leonard, Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz and lawyer Nick Fish all received more than 18,000 votes. Leonard defeated Cruz in the November election.

Hibbitts believes Brady, Hales and Smith will remain tightly bunched in any poll through election day, with the top two candidates not being known until all the votes are counted.

"I don't see any one or two candidates breaking out, or any one candidate falling significantly behind," Hibbitts says. "I believe it will stay close all the way through."

The mayor's race will likely be the most expensive in Portland history. The top three candidates had already raised more than $2.2 million in cash and in-kind contributions by the beginning of the week.

Brady had raised the most at more than $1.1 million, with Hales reporting more than $623,000 and Smith topping $469,000.

As of Wednesday morning Brady's campaign had $44,572 cash on hand, Hales had $62,742 and Smith had $97,316.