Lane County organizers gearing up for 2016 presidential primary

Register Guard - March 13, 2016

The fate of Republican and Democratic presidential ­candidates may be largely sewn up before the Oregon primary finally rolls around on May 17.

Yet many political activists in Lane County and statewide still are throwing themselves into grass-roots campaigning work — often for primaries in other states that take place earlier than Oregon’s.

As the national primary races intensify, Oregon political volunteers are using Facebook groups, phone banking, local meetings and the occasional public rally to work for their ­favored candidates. Increasingly popular this presidential campaign are virtual phone banks, where volunteers in a number of states can access voter information in a state where the primary is imminent and start making calls.

Presidential candidates for the time being are putting little or no money into their Oregon efforts, as they focus on looming primaries in states far richer in delegates than Oregon.

But Oregonians are pulling out their checkbooks for candidates.

In Lane County and across the state, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is the clear favorite measured in terms of how much campaign money Oregonians have sent his way. As of Jan. 31, the latest Federal Elections Commission report available, Sanders has pulled in $821,000 from Oregonians, including $119,000 from the Lane/Douglas area and the south coast.

Democrat Hillary Clinton is next with $656,000 statewide, including $44,000 from the Lane/Douglas/south coast area.
At the other end of the spectrum, fast-advancing GOP candidate Donald Trump had attracted virtually no cash from Oregon as of Jan. 31: Just $14,000 statewide and $572 from the Lane/Douglas/south coast area, and that from a single Eugene businesswoman.

But money is only part of the battle, as Lane County area volunteers of every stripe are pushing their favored candidate.

Jim Moore, a politics professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, said the early frenzy in Oregon is just that: early.

“It’s reflective of who’s excited about the election,” Moore said. “But will it hold?”

Students for Sanders

Matt Keating, a ­former alt-rock broadcaster, is the organizer of Lane County for Bernie Sanders. He says his Sanders group is “100 percent volunteer run” and has more than 1,000 members.

“I fell in love with Bernie,” Keating said. “He appeals to folks from all walks of life.” The group has been meeting for nearly nine months, and sent 12 volunteers to the Nevada caucus to work for the Sanders campaign. Clinton ended up winning the Nevada caucus with 20 delegates and 52.6 percent of the vote, although Sanders received 47.3 percent of the vote and 15 delegates.

Sanders volunteers — averaging 15 to 20 a day — meet daily for phone banking, and are active with letter-writing and on social media.

Every Saturday, members gather at Cozmic/Whirled Pies in downtown Eugene for volunteer-­delivered campaign ­updates, followed by phone banking.

There are 11 Sanders self-organized campaign groups in Oregon, according to the Oregon for ­Bernie website.

In Eugene, much of the support for Sanders comes from University of Oregon students.

“Bernie Sanders has really inspired the ­people who were disheartened and disenfranchised with the political process,” said Xander Berenstein, a University of Oregon math and biology double major volunteering for UO for Bernie Sanders. “Speaking as a Democratic Socialist Jew myself, I see Bernie as a role model,” Berenstein said. Sanders is Jewish but is said in published reports not to talk much about it.

Berenstein teamed up with his friend Chase Kelly-Reif, a UO computer science major, who created a Facebook page for the group on the day Sanders announced his presidential candidacy, April 30.

The Sanders group grew slowly, but took off after UO students were angered by Fox News ­reporter Jesse Watters’ visit to the UO campus in early February. Watters filed a report for the “O’Reilly Factor” TV show that featured several UO Sanders supporters floundering to express why they supported Sanders.

“He (Watters) never reached out to us,” Berenstein said. The Sanders group now has more than 1,083 Facebook members.

Students are equipped with pamphlets about Sanders, and an array of signs, often with the hashtag #feeltheBern. Some posters have a cut-out of Sanders’ face with a hole in the center, for students to stick their heads through and peer through a cardboard replica of Sanders’ thick, black-rimmed glasses.

“I’m really happy to see this level of energy,” said Gavin Cordell, a recent UO graduate and group member.

Pacific University’s Moore throws in a note of caution.

“The Bernie Sanders supporters are more excited about their candidate than others, kind of mimicking what we saw with Obama eight years ago,” Moore said. But youthful newcomers to politics may not have staying power, he said. “Newer voters may or may not cast ballots,” he said.

Clinton campaigners

Clinton supporter Sonny Mehta isn’t known for being conventional. Those phoning him are greeted by political rap, followed by Mehta singing to the beep.

And according to Mehta — who last year briefly held a position as an organizer in the ­Oregon for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign and now is a volunteer — the ­local pro-Clinton movement isn’t conventional, either.

“There were a number of previous organizers in 2008 who campaigned for Hillary and came back this year,” Mehta said.

Mehta was hired for his temporary role in April and arranged house parties and informational events throughout the state through the ­summer. A UO graduate and Eugene resident, Mehta soon teamed up with Eugene resident Evangelina ­Sundgeranz.

Sundgeranz founded a Lane County Democrats for Hillary Facebook page last spring, which now has more than 136 members, most of whom Sundgeranz says are active on the campaign. They are phone banking, mostly to reach registered Democratic voters in other states where caucuses and primaries are taking place.

“We’re not doing anything locally, because there’s nothing to motivate people about or do right now,” said Sundgeranz, co-facilitator of Lane County Democrats for Hillary.

The local Oregon Clinton groups are currently volunteer-led and unfunded, Sundgeranz said.

Sundgeranz directs local Clinton supporters to virtual phone banks provided through Clinton’s website, where volunteers pull up information on voters and start making calls. Because of the technology-based access, the efforts don’t involve actual meetings, although Sundgeranz says there are several dozen active Clinton supporters in the ­Eugene-Springfield area who have met for five or six house parties.

Last week, a group of 10 Clinton supporters rallied with signs outside the Democrat Party of Lane County Headquarters in downtown Eugene, drawing occasional honks and waves from drivers.

One of the Clinton supporters, Eugene resident Susan Cox, is the Oregon representative of the National Leadership Committee for Korean Americans for Hillary. Cox, 63, has met and volunteered for Clinton in the past, and says she’s drawn to Clinton’s international policy.

“She has a much broader view of the world,” Cox said. “What she has done is inspiring, and not because she’s a woman.”

Right now, Sundgeranz is looking for office space to move into if Clinton wins the nomination. That’s when she expects volunteers to become active in local campaigning.

Any sluggishness in Clinton’s Oregon volunteer organization may not mean much at this point, analyst Moore said.

“Hillary Clinton supporters tend to be older,” Moore said. “They’ve done elections before. They quite frankly know that phone banking two months before the (primary) election doesn’t do much.”

Among Clinton’s Oregon donors are prominent businesspeople and community leaders, including local state Rep. Val Hoyle, D-Eugene, Oracle Vice President and Eugene resident Steffen Land, and University of Oregon Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Andrew Marcus, according to the Federal Election Commission ­database.

UO College Democrats President Kenneth Sergienko, a college junior, is another Clinton supporter, although he acknowledges Sanders is a big draw on campus.

“There are more Hillary supporters than most people realize,” Sergienko said.

Cruz cruising in cash

A number of Lane County conservative voters have been donating to Ted Cruz in his bid to catch up to Trump.

Cruz may be outpaced by Donald Trump in delgates, but as of Jan. 31 he was the front-running GOP candidate in fundraising in Lane County and Oregon. The Republican has publicly raised $246,101 statewide, $31,142 of it from the Lane/Douglas/south coast area.

Susan Beals is the Lane County county chairwoman for Oregon for Ted Cruz, although she juggles that with a full-time job as a Lane County parole and probation officer.

Beals was recruited by Narlina Duke, the Oregon point person for Ted Cruz for President, and Darrell Gulstrom, the founder of the Oregon Grassroots for Ted Cruz 2016 Facebook page, which now has more than 500 members, including Dennis Richardson, the unsuccessful Republican challenger to then-Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2015, who now is running for secretary of state.

Beals considers Cruz as outside the Republican mainstream. “Our local GOP is half establishment — they like to do what the GOP wants,” Beals said. “I’m not one of those people.”

Moore said Republican politics and muscle varies from one Oregon county to the next.

“The Republican Party in Oregon is nonexistent at the state level,” Moore said. “It’s really about deciding who in the county wants to be active.”

Super PAC money already has been channeled into Oregon. Super PACs may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, associations, individuals and unions, to advocate for or against political candidates, although they are prohibited from coordinating spending with the candidates they benefit, or donating money directly to political candidates. According to Gulstrom, who works with the super PAC Stand for Principle, which started in 2014 with the stated goal of educating people about Cruz’s positions, the political action committee has been directing some funds to Oregon for the election. Gulstrom hopes to use super PAC funds to help pay for a potential Oregon right to life event in April.

Locally, Lane County efforts have yet to receive money from the Cruz campaign, although Beals expects she will receive money for signs eventually.

The groups started a phone campaign when Cruz first announced he would run. Like the Clinton campaign, Cruz volunteers download a phone app to work on phone banking for primaries in other states. “We don’t need a rented office,” Beals said.

Meanwhile, Beals — with her own money — bought Cruz-­emblazoned T-shirts, mugs and bumper stickers, and recently has received the first shipment of 50 small signs to post in ­supporters’ yards.

Beals says she was drawn to Cruz’s consistency. “Trump — I don’t like that guy at all,” Beals said. “I can’t figure out what he really, truly stands for. Ted has shown what he stands for.”

“There is no Rubio committee”

Twenty-one, $2,000 and zero.

Those are the three most indicative numbers of how Marco Rubio’s campaign is faring in Lane County.

As of the end of January, 21 donors in Lane County, most describing themselves as retirees, donated directly to Marco ­Rubio’s campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The Rubio campaign still is catching up to Cruz in local donations. In Oregon, Rubio has $85,146 in direct campaign donations, including $8,782 from the Lane/Douglas/south coast zip code area. Of that, $6,187 came from Lane County donors. The largest local donation to date is from Jeanne Wharton, a Eugene retiree: $2,000.

Marco Rubio supporters in Oregon have a little social media presence. Team Marco Oregon on Facebook has 207 likes, and Marco Rubio for President Oregon has 93 members.

And the zero? “There is no Rubio committee,” said Lane County Republican Party Chairwoman Cindy Land.

Trump town halls in the offing?

Trump’s campaign has a less visible presence in Lane County than Cruz. However, he does have some local organized support.

Diann Morrison-Wilson is the local Trump for President coordinator. “We’re just organizing,” Morrison-Wilson said.

Morrison-Wilson volunteered to become the campaign manager for Lane County, and started in January. She hopes to meet with the New York office to extend operations, if Trump wins the GOP nomination.

She says so far she’s attracted a range of people eager to volunteer, including evangelical ­Christians, retirees and a couple of registered Democrats.

Morrison-Wilson says Trump’s appeal is in his decisive ideas, including his illegal-­immigration-busting wall between the United States and Mexico, and his ­business background.

Trump supporters are frustrated by the lack of good private-sector jobs, she said. “The jobs that are out there are mostly government jobs,” Morrison-Wilson said. “We’ve seen too many businesses leave Oregon.”

Morrison-Wilson has yet to make phone calls or knock on doors, but she’s confident the Lane County Trump movement will grow. “We’ve discussed having town hall meetings” at the UO’s Matthew Knight Arena, Morrison-Wilson said. The arena doesn’t come cheap. A tour promoter paid $5,000 a day to rent the space for an artist, rumored to be Justin Bieber, to rehearse in late February and early March.