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Will Portland mayor's race go to runoff?

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PORTLAND TRIBUNE: ADAM WICKHAM - The top three candidates for Portland mayor are widely considered to be (from left) Multnomah County Commissioners Jules Bailey, Sarah Innarone and State Treasurer Ted Wheeler. They are shown here at the March 3 environmental debate.When Portland State University urban researcher Sarah Iannarone jumped into the Portland mayor’s race, some City Hall insiders speculated that incumbent Charlie Hales had recruited her — not to win, but to force the race into a runoff.

According to the speculation, Hales, who chose not to run for re-election, hopes Iannarone will attract enough support that none of the candidates will win the election outright at the May 17 primary election by receiving more than 50 percent of the vote.

If one person does get a majority vote in the primary, the reasoning goes, that candidate would became a “shadow mayor” who could publicly second-guess all of Hales’ decisions during his last seven months in office.

But if no one receives more than 50 percent of the votes in May, the top two vote-getters will face off at the November general election, creating a shorter transition time between Hales and the next mayor.

Iannarone denies Hales recruited her. Although she works with his wife, Nancy Hales, at First Stop Portland, Iannarone says she only talked to the mayor about the race after deciding to enter it.

“Charlie Hales did not recruit me. Having decided to run, I did what any wise person would do and went to the people with experience for advice, and Charlie Hales thought it was a great idea, and felt that Portland needed someone like me in leadership,” Iannarone says.

But, with 15 candidates in the race after last Tuesday’s filing deadline, what are the chances it will be over in the primary?

Iannarone believes the race will go to a runoff, and she intends to be one of the candidates.

“I am building the grassroots movement needed to force a runoff in May and give Portland voters a real choice on their ballots in November,” she says.

Ted Wheeler’s campaign wouldn’t speculate when the race will end.

“For our part, we’re focused on securing every vote we can. Whether the race ends in May or November, we’re focused on getting Wheeler elected mayor,” says Jake Weigler, a campaign consultant working on Wheeler’s campaign.

Jules Bailey’s campaign declined to comment.

Independent observers are split.

John Horvick, vice president and political director of the Portland-based DHM Research firm, believes the race will go into a runoff because Bailey and Wheeler are both strong candidates.

“The other candidates are likely to get between 10 and 25 percent of the vote, which makes it a big lift for either Bailey or Wheeler to get over 50 percent in the primary,” Horvick says.

Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, thinks that either Bailey or Wheeler will win the election in the primary. He says neither candidate has generated much excitement, so far, but none of the others have, either.

“The key player is Iannarone, and the question is whether she can reach enough voters,” Moore says.

Previous elections offer few clues

No easy answers can be gleaned by reviewing previous City Council elections. Although incumbents have mostly been re-elected in primary elections, races for open seats — like the mayor’s office this year — have been decided in both primaries and generals.

Obvious similarities exist between the current race for mayor and the last one in 2012, which went to a general election runoff.

In both cases, the incumbent mayors chose not to run for re-election. Many candidates (23) also filed in 2012, with the strongest being two men and one woman. They were former city Commissioner Hales, then-state Rep. Jefferson Smith, and businesswoman Eileen Brady.

No candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in the primary. Hales received 38 percent of the vote, Smith got 33 percent, to make the runoff. Brady finished third with 22 percent, and the other candidates accounted for the remaining 7 percent.

Hales went on to defeat Smith in the general election with 61 percent of the vote.

But the previous open race for mayor, back in 2008, was decided in the primary. After former Mayor Tom Potter chose not to run for re-election, city Commissioner Sam Adams was elected mayor in the May 2008 primary. He received 59 percent of the vote against 12 other candidates, with businessman Sho Dozono coming in second with 33 percent.

The open mayoral race before that went to a runoff. In the 2004 primary, Potter, a former Portland police chief, finished first with 42 percent of the vote. City Commissioner Jim Francesconi finished second, with 34 percent. Twenty-one other candidates divvied up the rest of the votes. Potter went on to defeat Francesconi with 61 percent of the vote in the general election.

Money not a great predictor

Money has not been the deciding factor in the last few elections for mayor. So far, Wheeler is well ahead of Bailey, who limited his contributions to $250. But Brady and Francesconi were both the biggest spenders in their primary races, and they did not go on to win.

The history of open city commissioner seats also is split. For example, in the 2012 primary election, lawyer and political activist Steve Novick won the seat vacated by former Commissioner Randy Leonard with 76 percent of the vote against six other candidates.

On the other hand, no one received more than 50 percent of the vote in the 2004 open primary race for the Commissioner No. 1 position. Nick Fish, who was then an attorney in private practice, came in first with 48 percent. Adams, the former chief of staff to Mayor Vera Katz, received 37 percent. Five candidates divided up the other votes. Adams defeated Fish with 51 percent in the 2004 general election.

Commission seats also up for grabs

Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Novick also are up for re-election. Although Fritz is facing four opponents and Novick is being challenged by nine, history would seem to be with them. Most council incumbents have been re-elected in primary elections in recent years.

“Nobody is so mad at City Hall that incumbents are at risk of being thrown out,” Moore says.

Horvick agrees, but says there is little polling data to know for sure.

For example, in the 2014 primary, Fish was re-elected with 73 percent of the vote against two challengers and Commissioner Dan Saltzman was re-elected with 63 percent of the vote against two challengers. In the 2010 primary, Fish was re-elected with 80 percent of the vote against three challengers, and Saltzman was re-elected with 55 percent of the vote against eight opponents.

In the 2008 primary, Commissioner Leonard was re-elected with 72 percent of the vote against three challengers. In the 2006 primary, Saltzman was re-elected with 58 percent of the vote against six challengers, and Commissioner Erik Sten was re-elected with 51 percent of the vote against six challengers. In the 2004 primary, Leonard was re-elected with 53 percent of the vote against 10 challengers.

On the other hand, Fritz was re-elected only after being forced into runoff elections both times she won. After losing to Saltzman the first time she ran in 2006, Fritz received 43 percent of the vote in the 2008 primary, and then went on to defeat nonprofit manager Charles Lewis, who received 13 percent, in November. Four years later, Fritz received 45 percent of the vote in the primary, and then defeated state Rep. Mary Nolan, who received 44 percent, at the 2012 general election.