How Oregon Could Get a GOP Governor: Part One

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Oregon hasn't had a Republican governor in nearly thirty years. Republicans haven't won statewide office since 2002 when U.S. Senator Gordon Smith won re-election. Since that time, a number of Republican governor's have been elected in blue states across the country. These Republicans have had varying pathways to the governorship. In a series of posts, I’m going to evaluate the strategies of various blue-state GOP governors and see which ones could reasonably be recreated here and which may not. First up, Illinois and Governor Bruce Rauner.

This New York Times article gives a decent overview on what went on in Illinois last year:

Illinois was fertile ground for the movement. Four of the state’s last 10 governors have gone to jail. Decades of mismanagement by state officials of both parties have left Illinois with more than $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, among the most of any state. Public employee unions, assured that the state’s Constitution made their retirement benefits untouchable, focused on lobbying for other spending. By last year, the state owed billions more in unpaid bills.

Bruce Rauner raised and spent a lot of money to get elected. He raised more money than any gubernatorial candidate in the history of Illinois. He contributed more of his own money than any other candidate in history, and he raised more small dollar donations than most candidates did in total over the past few elections. Cash was certainly a major factor in his victory.

This is certainly a strategy that could be used by a Republican candidate for Governor. The most successful GOP gubernatorial candidate in Oregon since Vic Atyiah was Chris Dudley. He spent a little over $10 million in his race. In 2010 John Kitzhaber spent about $7 million. That doesn't take into account outside spending by unions, businesses, or the Republican and Democrat Governor's Associations, but it does give us a decent estimate as to how much a candidate would need to raise in order to be competitive statewide.

How much would a GOP candidate need to spend potentially to get into office? Probably upwards of $10-15 million. $20 million to have a really good shot. In 2014, Richardson spend nearly $3 million and Kitzhaber spent $5 million. Democrats can win statewide office with a lot fewer renounces since voter registration and turnout give them a built in advantage. A competitive Governorship would cause spending to go above $10 million combined for sure or even $15-20 million like the Dudley-Kitzhaber contest.

There aren't a lot of Oregon residents involved in politics that could self-fund half the required amount (like Rauner did in Illinois). Phil Knight comes to mind as someone with the means, but I highly doubt he'd run for Governor as a Republican in Oregon at this time. There are certainly some Republicans with deeper pockets than the average Oregonian, but very few have the resources like Bruce Rauner had.

Fundraising is one of the more difficult aspects of running for office. Those with money usually want to see significant fundraising and good polling before they weigh in with big checks. The irony of that is that significant amounts of money are needed to put up the ads that help your poll numbers in a statewide race.

In my opinion, we're unlikely to see a GOP candidate run for office in Oregon who can use their wallet to boost them into the governor's mansion. It’s a slim possibility, but highly unlikely.

Reagan Knopp