Skip to comments.Oregon gubernatorial race gets tighter; Senate race could be a Republican rout (my title)
Posted on 10/09/2002 8:17:01 AM PDT by JoeBobJr
Gubernatorial race gets tighter
The race for Oregon governor has turned into a close contest while the race for U.S. Senate could become a rout for Republican incumbent Gordon Smith, according to a new poll conducted for The Oregonian and KATU(2).
Democrat Ted Kulongoski, who emerged from the May primary in a commanding position in the governor's race, now holds a relatively small lead of four percentage points over Republican Kevin Mannix.
The statewide survey of 600 likely voters -- those who have voted in at least two of the last four primary or general elections -- also shows Democrat Bill Bradbury is having trouble gaining traction in his race against Smith, who is seeking re-election after his first term. Smith is backed by 55 percent of voters and leads Bradbury by 21 percentage points.
The poll also found a majority of 55 percent against the proposed temporary income-tax increase that will appear on a Jan. 28 special election ballot. That tax increase -- aimed at helping Oregon dig out of a budget shortfall caused by the recession -- has turned into a major issue in the governor's race, with Kulongoski supporting it and Mannix opposed.
Pollster Tim Hibbitts, whose firm of Davis, Hibbitts & McCaig conducted the Oct. 2-6 survey, said Mannix's stand has appeared to solidify his support among Republican voters and helped him make strong inroads among independents as well.
The Legislature "didn't do Kulongoski any favors by putting this (income tax) measure on the ballot," said Hibbitts, noting that Kulongoski's lead of 45 percent to 41 percent for Mannix is now at the edge of the poll's margin of error of four percentage points.
If voters who are only leaning toward one of the candidates are taken out, Kulongoski's lead increases slightly to five percentage points, putting him at 43 percent to 38 percent for Mannix.
Kulongoski had unsuccessfully urged the Legislature to simply pass a one-year income-tax increase instead of referring a more costly measure to the ballot that would raise $725 million over three years. But he reluctantly embraced the measure, saying it was the best alternative at this point to avoiding deep cuts to schools and other public services.
Mannix's campaign strategist, Jack Kane, said the race "may boil down to a referendum" on taxes that Mannix is well-positioned to win.
Lisa Grove, a Portland pollster working for the Kulongoski campaign, conceded that the debate over taxes is drowning out the subjects that Democrats would like to focus on. "It's hard for Democrats to talk about things they have a declared advantage on," such as education or health care, said Grove.
Still, she said Mannix may have made all the gains he can get out of the tax issue and that Kulongoski is still much closer to bringing in enough voters to gain a majority. In addition, she noted that Kulongoski still has better personal approval ratings from voters.
"I still believe Kulongoski is the favorite," added Hibbitts, "but it is by no means a foregone conclusion, and Mannix could win this thing."
Kulongoski runs better in the Portland area while Mannix has stronger backing in the rest of the state. Mannix has more support among younger voters while Kulongoski is ahead among older voters. The race has also produced another classic gender gap: Mannix leads among men while Kulongoski is ahead among women.
The poll found that the third gubernatorial candidate, Libertarian Tom Cox, held a slim 4 percent of the voters. Hibbitts said he didn't think Cox is taking a large number of votes that would otherwise go to Mannix or Kulongoski. But he said it means the winning candidate may only need to take about 48 percent of the vote.
The governor's race is being played out amid a sour mood in Oregon, with 66 percent of voters saying they thought the state was on the wrong track. That was more pessimistic than a recent Gallup poll that found 54 percent of voters nationally thought the country was on the wrong track.
Each of the candidates has portrayed himself as the one most capable of getting the state's economy going again. But Hibbitts said the disquiet is fed by a host of issues -- including the possibility of war with Iraq -- that take attention away from the governor's race.
As a result, about 40 percent of the voters said they didn't know enough about the candidates to have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of them, which Hibbitts said is the highest he's ever seen this close to a gubernatorial election.
In the Senate race, the Smith campaign reacted with confidence that they have found the campaign message that is resonating with voters. The senator, who has raised nearly $6 million, has saturated the airwaves with ads portraying himself as an independent voice in Congress. He and the Senate Republican committee have also aired a flurry of ads attacking Bradbury, whose ad campaign has been much smaller.
Bradbury spokeswoman Kim Baldwin conceded that the Democrat is behind but said she expects the race to tighten before the Nov. 5 election.
"We're just beginning to make our case to Oregonians," Baldwin said. "We're going to stay focused. These numbers want to make us work a little bit harder."
The poll shows Smith doing well throughout the state and making strong inroads among Democrats, 29 percent of whom support him.
Although the survey portrayed strong voter skepticism toward the Jan. 28 tax measure, Gov. John Kitzhaber -- a key backer of the proposed tax increase -- said it could pass if supporters muster a big enough campaign.
"The key to this one is, it needs to be connected to a larger debate, really, about our changing tax structure," said Kitzhaber who has pledged to lead the charge to get the measure passed. "How to do that is really what we -- the people who support it -- are struggling with."
The tax vote will stand a much smaller chance of passing "if it's seen as just an isolated tax vote," the governor added.
Hibbitts said the tax proposal would likely be doomed if historic patterns hold. In the past, tax measures tend to see drops in support as voters more closely scrutinize them. However, there was one sign in the poll that support could grow: 19 percent of those opposed to the measure said they would be more likely to vote for it if the measure prevented cuts to state services.
Don McIntire, a tax activist who sponsored the 1990 property-tax limit, said he remained confident the measure could be defeated if opponents are able to raise money for at least a minimal advertising campaign against it.
The tax measure was placed on the ballot after a contentious 18-day special session that was the Legislature's fifth of the year. Many lawmakers worried that voters would look particularly askance at incumbents this year, but the new poll showed it wouldn't affect most voters' decisions.
More than 60 percent of voters said they would be more likely or just as likely to support incumbents this year, while 28 percent said they would be less likely than usual to vote for incumbents.
Harry Esteve of The Oregonian staff contributed to this report. Jeff Mapes: 503-221-8209; firstname.lastname@example.org
Confirmation that Gordon Smith has a big lead in Oregon, and that the gubernatorial race is tightening.
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It really seems as if there's a GOP trend emerging all over the country, these past two weeks or so. Is that your perception, as well? You track these polls closer than most of us.
I would pretty much agree with Coop's assessment in Post #4. From what I've seen over the past couple of weeks, overall, the GOP seems to have made some slight gains in the gubernatorial contests (as a whole - I realize the bottom has fallen out in some places like PA). I do not see the makings of any trend one way or the other in the House or Senate, yet, though the developments in NJ definitely struck a blow to the GOP (that race is still winnable, though).
It is very rare that all the close races split evenly down the middle. One side usually wins a good majority of these contests, but the trend often doesn't begin to surface until about 3 weeks before the election. We're not quite there, yet.
It will be interesting to see the new Zogby tracking poll results (which I believe come out this Sunday), to see if they start to give us any clearer direction.
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