Sept. 26 – The Produce Row cafe, nestled in the industrial east bank of the Willamette River in Portland, was filled with lawyers and political types as state Senator Kate Brown finished up her one day campaign kickoff tour of the state. On a normal Thursday evening, the Produce Row spot might have 15 or 20 young patrons, but on this night close to 200 people packed the small bar’s two rooms and outside deck–most of them quite a bit older than the venue’s usual clientele.
The crowd at the kickoff that night, as well as Brown’s success in making four stops across Oregon in one day, reflects Brown’s status as the leading contender for the Democratic nomination in the 2008 Secretary of State race. Her campaign has raised at least $80,000 since the end of the legislative session (and probably much more after the kickoffs)–far more than her two competitors this far, state Senators Vicki Walker of Eugene and Brad Avakian of Beaverton. Each of Brown’s competitors has raised under $10,000, according to the campaign finance records online at the Secretary of State’s website.
While Brown is making clear gains with her campaign, it’s not final that the Democratic field has settled in the Secretary of State primary. State Senator Rick Metsger of Welches, a moderate member of the caucus who is allied with business interests, has indicated that he’ll likely enter the race. At that point four out of the eighteen Democrats of the Senate will be campaigning for the office, with at least one other member campaigning for a statewide executive office as Senator Ben Westlund of Tumalo runs for Treasurer.
But none of that Democratic competition is the most exciting part about the Secretary of State race. The best part about the statewide races of 2008, including Treasurer, Attorney General and Secretary of State, is that no Republican has stepped forward to even indicate a modicum of interest in running for any of these positions. And if that hesitation is based in anything, it’s the fear that they will lose badly to any of the Democrats that are currently running. Eleven of the last twelve statewide elections, including those for U.S. Senate and President (but excluding judicial races), have been won by Democrats, and the last Republican to win a statewide executive post was Jack Roberts in 2002. Roberts subsequently lost a statewide campaign for Supreme Court in 2006.
Democrats are excited about their prospects in 2008, and the result is a crowded house in the Attorney General and Secretary of State primaries. The enthusiasm of the Brown campaign in these early stages does not mean her nomination is inevitable; rather, it is indicative of the surging Democratic agenda here in Oregon after the removal in 2006 of its last remaining barrier, GOP control of the state House. Brown was first elected to the legislature in 1990, the year the House flipped from Democratic control to GOP hands, and while the Senate returned to full Democratic control in 2005 much of the party’s agenda was stalled by the Republican house until this last session.
The current field of Democrats in the Secretary of State primary boasts geographic diversity within the state. Brown comes from southeast Portland, Avakian from urbanized Washington County, Walker from Eugene and Metsger from the Clackamas County/Mt. Hood area.
It remains to be revealed what–if anything–will separate the Democratic candidates on matters of policy. Each of them has asserted the importance of competent stewardship as the Secretary of State to ensure that every vote is counted, that government is running efficiently, and that the state adhere to its progressive land use policies through the Secretary’s role on the State Land Board. Avakian, Metsger and Walker have yet to introduce themselves to the entire state. They would do well to hurry that part along, as there are only 232 days before Oregon Democrats pick their nominee.