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Hall Monitor

An Ever-Shifting Dance Floor

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RAISE YOUR HAND if, in the moments after the first results emerged on May 15's Election Day, you resumed your previous approach to this year's campaign season: not paying much attention.

Turns out there were a few, uh, developments.

Remember how, in the mayor's race, Charlie Hales had leaped out to a 10-point lead over Jefferson Smith? That was when early returns first were announced—and everyone at Hales' HQ was so excited that they wrote the numbers on a piece of paper on the wall.

Hales, glowing, had already begun embracing the frontrunner's role heading into November's runoff. But it was short lived.

Because by the next day—once the county had tallied ballots dropped late on Election Day—Smith had actually clawed his way to less than five points from Hales. As momentum shifts go, that's hardly inconsequential—with some clear implications for November.

It's not a stretch to say that voters who were mostly undecided—waiting until the last minute to declare an allegiance—wound up falling for Smith.

And with turnout for the primary dismally low, it's also not a stretch to say that most voters in Portland still rightly qualify as undecided.

And then there's the matter of Barack Obama's reelection. Kari Chisholm, (an Eileen Brady supporter) writing at BlueOregon after Election Day, put it succinctly: "In the fall, the electorate in Portland will trend younger, more diverse, and even more progressive. Anyone who thinks this is a slam dunk for Charlie Hales needs to think again."

Smith's campaign kept right on rolling. He was making the rounds and told me on Thursday, May 17, that his team was still out knocking on doors. Hales, meanwhile, was talking about taking a rest before deciding, on Friday, May 18, to abruptly ax the team who presided over his primary-leading field operation.

That same dynamic with late returns lifted incumbent City Commissioner Amanda Fritz to a tiny lead over State Representative Mary Nolan. In early returns, Nolan had claimed a modest lead.

But Fritz will be much harder pressed than Smith to capitalize on that momentum over the next five-plus months.

Fritz, clinging to the ghost of the public-financing system she used to ride into office in 2008, has so far limited her asks to $50 a contributor, per election, per calendar year. To keep up with the union-friendly Nolan, a champion fundraiser, Fritz wound up injecting tens of thousands of her family's savings into the campaign.

That won't help this time. She gambled her nest egg on the hope she'd win in the primary outright—leaving precious little for the runoff. "I'm not going to mortgage my house," she told me on Wednesday, May 16, lamenting that Nolan "will probably raise another $300,000."

Will she ask donors for more cash? If not she'll have to get creative—but the odds aren't good. It could be there's a bigger question, she says: "How do Portlanders want to finance their elections?"

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