The Republican primary for governor is heating up.
Whoever emerges will certainly face an uphill battle against Democratic Incumbent Governor Kate Brown. However, Brown’s polling has shown she is vulnerable and Republican voters should make sure to choose a candidate who can capitalize on that. We have a real opportunity to flip the governor’s mansion in 2018 and improve the lives of millions of Oregonians.
To that end, whenever a state-wide primary begins in Oregon, panic generally sets in amongst the political establishment. Concerns that conservative rural and working-class voters might pick a candidate that is “too conservative” run high. And that conservative voters will certainly stay home in November if the Republican nominee is too moderate.
This continued misconception has done irreprehensible damage to the Oregon Republican Party and how we view the candidate selection process. The Oregon GOP doesn’t lose because its voters pick candidates who are “too conservative” or the voters east of the cascades always stay home. Our side loses because we don’t message and offer solutions to issues that the concern the average Oregonian.
Nowhere is this fallacy better exposed than by Republican governors in other blue states. Unlike the West Coast, numerous GOP candidates have had significant success in democratic strongholds across the country, particularly conservative ones.
Look no further than Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who currently sits at spot number 2 on the list of most popular governors in the country. Hogan soared to a surprise upset victory in 2014 against the state’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor and he looks to be unbeatable in his upcoming reelection.
Hogan is both a strong fiscal and social conservative even in deep blue Maryland where Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-1. Maryland Democrats repeatedly blasted Hogan for his stances on social issues, including a college thesis he wrote professing his pro-life views.
Instead of engaging with in partisan politics, Hogan highlighted his own policy agenda that offered solutions to issues that mattered most to Maryland families. Hogan came out with one of the best ads in the 2014 election cycle which included his promise to repeal Maryland’s notorious “rain tax” (thank goodness Oregon Democrats haven’t thought of this.) Hogan continued his agenda by proposing more investment in the state’s infrastructure and a reduction in the high toll on roads.
Hogan was able to own the narrative. But one can also look to Dennis Richardson as a perfect model for Oregon. Richardson, also a strong conservative on both social and fiscal issues, was able to deliver a sound defeat to liberal-Democrat Brad Avakian.
Despite losing in the 2014 governor’s election, Richardson rebranded his 2016 campaign to highlight issues that mattered to Oregonians for the secretary of state race. Richardson ran on a platform of increasing government transparency, accountability, and bringing back checks and balances.
Avakian railed against Richardson for his conservative views on abortion and gay marriage, but voters didn’t care about these issues. They rightfully recognized that Richardson would fight for them on the issues that mattered in the secretary of state position – bringing accountability back to government.
Candidates fail when they don’t properly address the needs of voters, not because they’re too conservative or moderate. A candidate who offers innovative solutions to fix our failing k-12 education system and restore law and order to the chaos in downtown Portland could easily pull voters from liberal and conservative ranks.
So, let’s remember during this Republican primary and for future ones. How candidates message and craft their policy platform matter. If a candidate doesn’t have a platform that includes solutions to address the needs of conservative rural and working-class voters, they won’t win their votes. It’s that simple – it’s not because a candidate is too moderate, or these voters are too conservative.
Until we move on from this misconception, we will likely continue to lose very-winnable races against candidates like Governor Brown. So please, stop blaming conservatives for why we lose.