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Political scientist: Recent election battlegrounds the same

WOU's Ed Dover: In Oregon, usually Portland suburbs; in the nation, a handful of states.

Like trench warfare in World War I a century ago, a political observer says political battles in the United States and in Oregon are fought only in limited areas.

Ed Dover, a political science professor at Western Oregon University, says Portland is predictably Democratic and Southern and Eastern Oregon are predictably Republican.

“Where the real battles are fought, where elections are decided, have been primarily in the suburbs,” Dover said Friday at a Salem City Club luncheon.

“What we saw in this election was not so much a Republican wave or a Democratic defeat. What we saw was a continuation of trench warfare.”

In the 2012 presidential election, he says, the bulk of $500 million in television advertising was spent in just nine of the 50 states: Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in the South; Iowa and Wisconsin in the Midwest; Colorado and Nevada in the West, and New Hampshire and Ohio in the East. Democratic incumbent Barack Obama carried all but North Carolina.

Oregon sided with Obama, though not as strongly as in his first election in 2008.

In Tuesday’s election, although 33 seats were up in the U.S. Senate, Republicans secured their first majority in eight years by winning at least seven seats in Republican-leaning or toss-up states. Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia were carried by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, and Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina were toss-up states. (Contests in Alaska, Louisiana and Virginia remain undecided.)

Oregon's seat was considered safely Democratic.

Oregon battlegrounds

In the same election in Oregon, where all 60 House seats and 16 Senate seats were up, there was a net switch of one in each chamber.

Democrat Paul Evans of Monmouth won an open House seat vacated by Republican Vicki Berger of Salem, giving Democrats a 35-25 margin. Dover says Evans is a former student of his, and Dover’s wife worked on Evans’ successful campaign.

Democratic Rep. Sara Gelser of Corvallis ousted Republican Sen. Betsy Close of Albany, giving Democrats a 17-12 margin. One Senate seat remained undecided Friday; Democrat Chuck Riley of Hillsboro, in the latest count, was leading Republican Sen. Bruce Starr of Hillsboro by just 13 votes of more than 32,000 cast for both. If that margin holds up, it would trigger an automatic recount.

Dover says that Democrats retained all four House seats they wrested from Republican incumbents in 2012. Two were in Hillsboro, in Portland’s western suburbs; two were in Portland’s eastern suburbs. Republicans won them from Democrats in 2010.

Kitzhaber, Merkley

Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber won re-election by about 5 percentage points over Republican Dennis Richardson.

“In many ways, John Kitzhaber was a lot weaker than he appeared, and to some extent, he was very vulnerable,” Dover says.

“I think the Republican Party may not have put its best foot forward. Dennis Richardson was not a particularly strong candidate. There might have been others who would have run a stronger race. A lot of people did not like John Kitzhaber.”

Kitzhaber won just seven of Oregon’s 36 counties. Except for one coastal county, they were the same as in 2010, when he won a record third term after sitting out eight years. However, three of them — Multnomah, Washington and Lane — are among Oregon’s four most populous.

In contrast, Dover says, Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley won 17 counties in his victory over Republican Monica Wehby, 56 percent to 37 percent. Merkley won all the counties in the Portland metropolitan area, the Mid-Willamette Valley (with one exception) and the south Willamette Valley, plus most of the coastal counties, Jackson County in Southern Oregon and Deschutes and Wasco counties east of the Cascades.

But Dover adds that Wehby did not help her own cause with stalking accusations by her former boyfriend and husband on file in police reports, and accusations of plagiarism of her stances on health care and economic policies.


(503) 385-4899


Adds missing word in Dover quote. JW_DISQUS_ADD_A_COMMENT