Tim Duy says he knows better than to read the editorial page in the WSJ:
Note to the WSJ – Don’t Write About Oregon, by Tim Duy: I generally leave political commentary to others, so I admit to going out on a limb a bit here. And I generally resist the urge to read the editorial pages of the Wall Street journal, lest it darken my respect for their many fine reporters. But, alas, we all make mistakes, and this afternoon I found myself reading Kimberly Strassel’s piece “How to Block a Liberal Agenda.” Why do I make myself suffer so much? Strassel attempts to argue that the Democrats inability to capture 60 votes in the Senate is a reflection of American’s desire to provide a check on the Obama administration. What caught my eye was this:
These numbers aren't an accident, but instead say something about America's interest in a check on the Democratic majority. Mr. Obama won Oregon by 15 percentage points, yet thousands of his own supporters pulled the lever for Republican Gordon Smith, who lost narrowly. In Minnesota Mr. Obama won by 10, yet Mr. Coleman leads. Alaskans appear to have voted for a felon in part to deny the left a supermajority.
I am not in a position to comment on Minnesota or Alaska, but I have to imagine Strassel has never set foot in Oregon, or put much if any thought into considering our political issues. That Democratic Jeff Merkley barely edged out a victory says little if anything about Oregonians’ desire to prevent a filibuster-proof majority. Instead, Senator Smith’s loss speaks to voter resentment of the Republican party, and, even worse for the GOP, the willingness of their core to destroy themselves.
By all accounts Gordon Smith should have enough support of center left voters to win reelection; this was considered a safe seat for the Republicans. We are not as liberal a state as many believe; Gore barely edged out Bush in 2000 (although Nader did distort the vote). Even Kerry’s performance in 2004 was not particularly impressive. And incumbents in Oregon don’t lose often, as noted by the Register Guard:
Merkley becomes the first candidate to defeat an Oregon incumbent in the Senate since 1968 — when Bob Packwood defeated Wayne Morse — and the first Democrat to accomplish that feat since 1954.
Smith was seen by many in the state as relatively moderate – it was not an accident that he built his base of supporters over two elections. He handily won reelection in 2002 (by a margin of over 200,000 votes), even though he barely edged out a victory in the 1996 general election (he ran twice that year, losing a special January election to Ron Wyden). Important to his success was his model working relationship with Senator Ron Wyden, agreeing to cross party lines on issues important to Oregon, and even issues that weren’t so important. From Calculated Risk:
The bailout bill has a number of unrelated provisions. This one caught my eye earlier today: SEC. 503. EXEMPTION FROM EXCISE TAX FOR CERTAIN WOODEN ARROWS DESIGNED FOR USE BY CHILDREN.
Bloomberg has the details: Bailout Bull's-Eye for Kids' Arrow-Makers' Tax Break
Senators attached a provision repealing a 39-cent excise tax on wooden arrows designed for children to an historic $700 billion bank rescue that is likely to pass tonight. The provision, originally proposed by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith, will save manufacturers such as Rose City Archery in Myrtle Point, Oregon, about $200,000 a year.
A reasonable Oregon voter could see the potential benefits of having a long-term member of the Senate fighting for those nasty little earmarks.
The writing, however, was on the wall for Smith two years ago when he was forced by political necessity to reverse his position on the Iraq war. A self-serving move, or a willingness to recognize the concerns of Oregonians – I will let the reader decide. In any event, by that point, the tide was turning not against Smith himself, but against Republicans in general. From the Register Guard again:
“There was simply a tide too strong for us to stand,” Smith said as he draped an arm around his wife, Sharon.
Unlike Strassel, Smith is under no illusions. Voters in Oregon did not run to Smith in fear of a Democratic Senate majority; the voters who gave Smith his comfortable victory in 2002 ran to Merkley in fear of Republicans.
This however is not the end of the story. Consider the votes:
Votes Percent Gordon H Smith (Republican) 773,387 45.70% Jeff Merkley (Democrat) 825,586 48.79% Dave Brownlow (Constitution) 88,309 5.22% Write-in Votes 4,851 0.29% _________________ _________________ Totals: 1,692,133 100%
Did Merkley defeat Smith, or did Brownlow defeat Smith? And who is this Dave Brownlow, and what is the Constitution Party?
I will let the reader learn about the Constitution Party of Oregon on their own time. Suffice it to say that Brownlow captured the votes of those who consider Smith too liberal. That’s right – the votes for Brownlow likely came straight out of the Republican base, giving the election to Merkley. And given Oregon’s penchant for reelecting incumbent Senators, what was the last safe Republican Senate seat on the west coast is now a safe Democratic seat.
The bottom line is that Strassel’s attempt to minimize the magnitude of the Republican loss by using Oregon as an example is weak. She has the story completely backwards; the Oregon Senate race reveals the damage the Republicans have wrought upon themselves.