By Peter Toll
Clackamas County is in the thick of it this election as various political analysts agree the governor’s race between Kate Brown and Knute Buehler will be decided here and in Washington County.
An article in the Portland Tribune makes it clear: Multnomah County voters predictably deliver a big number to Kate Brown’s re-election. But the bottom line will come in the two big “swing” counties, those known to go both ways or sometimes lean one way or the other.
Let’s take a quick look at voter registration, which gives Democrats the edge, then we’ll visit the turnout numbers.
Clackamas voter registration as of last week shows Democrats with 98,465; Nonaffiliated, 87,350; and Republicans, 82,451. Total is approximately 280,000, including minor parties. (Multnomah’s D-R ratio, by comparison, is huge — 4.5:1 with some 550,000 total voters.
History shows our county tends to turn out like the rest of the state. That’s around 80 percent two years ago when Hillary Clinton won here, 71 percent in the off year of 2014. It was an 83 percent turnout when Barack Obama was re-elected in 2012 and two years before that saw 72 percent in the midterms.
Notice the slump in the off-year numbers — about a 9 percent difference. If those figures hold then we can look for a turnout of some 71 percent this year.
However, Democrats in our county don’t vote as much as Republicans. GOP percentage turnout is usually some 2-3 points higher.
When our Neighborhood Leaders start knocking on doors, the numbers jump dramatically — at least a 10 percent higher turnout than the county average. In some cases that means some precincts are witnessing 90 percent or higher Democratic voting activity.
Our volunteers, not including the candidate canvassers, will distribute some 25,000 slate cards bearing the endorsements of Clackamas Democrats. That’s 600 of our volunteers urging Democratic voters to mail in those ballots. Looked at another way, that’s personally reaching more than a quarter of all voting Democrats in the county.
So what could the Clackamas impact be on a race like Kate Brown’s? Victory. Bumping the Democratic turnout up 5 percent would be enough to surpass the Republican turn out margin. (In the last general election we had only 172 Neighborhood Leaders so the impact was less meaningful.)
So let’s take that trend a tad further down the ballot.
We have five closely contested legislative races (of the 14 in our county). If we can successfully defend first-termer Janelle Bynum in House District 51, it is conceivable we could add two new Democrats in the lower house — Rachel Prusak in HD37 and Anna Williams in HD52.
If Prusak can manage to beat West Linn’s Julie Parrish or Ms. Williams can oust appointee Jeff Helfrich, then it is likely one of them could be the 37th Democratic vote, the vote which could allow Democrats to work on revenue reform without the need for Republican assistance.
And the same is true in our state Senate. One more Democrat is needed to achieve the number needed to pass so-called “money bills” without a Republican. Charles Gallia, trying to replace Republican climate change denier Alan Olsen in Senate District 20, is one strong possibility. The other is Chrissy Reitz against Chuck Thompson in SD26.
These five races are attracting the most interest, the most money (Bynum’s election two years ago set a record of over $1 million for a House race), and the most volunteers. They’re waving signs at commuters, planting lawn signs, calling voters, as well as canvassing.
Another beneficiary of strong down-ballot support would be Pamela White. She is trying to knock out 12-year County Clerk Sherry Hall from office. White is formidable. She has a solid campaign, is raising money, and working hard. Hall has been described as one of the worst county clerks Oregon has ever seen.
So when the pundits look at the big race — the governor’s contest — they tend to overlook the overall impact of our volunteer efforts. We not only want to keep Gov. Brown in Mahonia Hall, but we also want to give her the votes she needs to deliver meaningful reform for a better Oregon.