Statesman Journal - March 15, 2015
Oregon's presidential primary could still be relevant, at least on the Republican side, if the cadre of candidates pleading with voters to be an alternative to front-runner Donald Trump gains enough steam and delegates to divide the GOP convention in July.
One sign Oregon may yet play a role: A group of Oregon GOP voters rejected Trump in favor of Ohio governor John Kasich during a recent straw poll. Texas Senator Ted Cruz came second and Trump placed third in the poll, conducted last weekend at the Dorchester Conference in Seaside. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who dropped out of the race Tuesday after losing his own state's primary, placed fourth.
The voters in that poll don't represent the state's diverse Republican electorate, which is likely a shoo-in for Trump come the time to cast primary ballots, political experts said. "This is a Mitt Romney kind of crowd," said Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University.
The message the Dorchester poll sends is that some voters want a moderate Republican nominee. For candidates desperately in search of delegates, Oregon could be a state that keeps them in the race. With more candidates seeking the GOP nod, it becomes harder to predict how the nomination will play out.
"The chances are pretty good that we’re going to have three candidates," Bill Currier, chairman of the Oregon Republican Party, said in an interview. "For that reason Oregon becomes more relevant."
For Oregon to stay relevant, candidates such as Kasich and Cruz need to stay in the race. An endorsement from Rubio could also fuel their campaigns.
Next, Kasich and Cruz need to win enough delegates during the remaining primaries to deny Trump a plurality on the first ballot cast at the Republican Convention in July. That would divide the convention and force the nomination to be decided at the 11th hour.
With some winner-takes-all primaries ahead, the contests become all the more important.
If the long-shot scenario becomes reality, GOP delegates would have to vote for candidates other than Trump on subsequent ballots to deny him the nomination. That's only possible because after the first ballot, delegates don't have to vote for the candidate who claimed their vote in the state primary.
One more thing: No candidate can be eligible for the Republican nomination without delegates from at least five states. That means Oregon may be a last chance state for candidates eager to secure delegates.
What's more likely, however, is Oregon will vote for Trump during its primary, which is May 17.
Moore said Oregon's GOP electorate is like many of Trump's supporters. They're probably troubled with current leadership, worried about the economy, seeking a solution to illegal immigration and concerned about terrorism.
Currier sees Trump as the likely victor in Oregon's primary. "I don't see Kasich taking Oregon, that’s for sure," he said.
Moore agreed, adding, "I think, like everywhere else, there’s a probably silent Trump plurality."
Despite the likely Trump triumph in Oregon, Moore said Kasich's small victory may compel members of the GOP elite to pledge cash in the hopes of rousing voters for Kasich or other Trump alternatives.
A competitive primary may also draw candidates to Oregon.
"We don’t usually see a lot of candidates in actual campaigning," Currier said. "That could change."