Is Oregon a certain win for Obama?

Is Oregon a certain win for Obama?

Picture of Obama rally in Portland by Photoscott 

    Does Clinton stand a chance of winning Oregon?

Following her triumph in Pennsylvania on the 22nd April and an effective tie in Guam on May 3rd, but having suffered difficult headlines since last Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina, Hillary Clinton will need to build momentum quickly to prevent a hemorrhaging of Superdelegates to Barack Obama.

She has the potential to rally her flagging campaign with solid wins in West Virginia (13th May), Kentucky (20th May), and Puerto Rico (1st June). South Dakota and Montana (both 3rd June) herald the end of the primary campaign on June 3rd, and whilst both are winnable for either candidate, her focus must be on building momentum during the month of May if she is to stand a chance of the nomination.

The state most likely to deny her between now and the end of the contest is the west-coast state of Oregon. Considered a Democrat-leaning swing-state in General Elections, Oregon is split East-West with the rural Republican-held 2nd District covering two-thirds of the area, but the four Congressional districts on West Coast and surrounding the city of Portland trending strongly-Democratic.

One of the most liberal and least Christian states in the USA, Oregon has been at the forefront of controversial legislation, including medicinal marijuana, same-sex unions, and voluntary euthanasia. Although chiefly known as a ‘young’ city (which would seemingly favour Obama), Portland also has a large gay population, one of the demographics said to be most loyal to Clinton. The largest non-white demographic are Hispanics, and its African-American population is below 2.5% – significantly less than Asian-Americans or even Native-Americans & Pacific Islanders. In short, there is little to suggest that demographics hand Obama an obvious victory – indeed, had he not proven himself strong by winning Washington state and northern California, Oregon would have been a state that many would have assumed would trend towards Clinton.

There has been a dearth of information coming from the state for much of the contest. In one of only two recent Democratic statewide polls, SurveyUSA had Obama on 52%, Clinton on 42%, with 3% declaring themselves Undecided 3% (as of April 8th, 2008). Previous polls of all voters have shown that Oregon would favour Obama over McCain, but McCain over Clinton in the presidential head-to-heads. However, these are a poor guide for the Democratic primary, given that a different constituency of voters has been polled – the margins in head-to-heads being provided by Independents and others not able to vote in the closed (Democrat only) primary election. Previous polls all showed Clinton leading, though since the Iowa caucus, only one such poll has been published (Clinton 36%, Obama 28%, Edwards 14% in late January 2008).

Governor Ted Kulongoski has endorsed Hillary Clinton, along with retiring Congresswoman Darlene Hooley (Dem, OR-5 – as an open seat, the only Democratic district in Oregon at risk in November). Earl Blumenhauer (Dem, OR-3) has endorsed Barack Obama, but the remaining 3 Oregon Congressmen and Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wydon have chosen not to endorse either candidate at the time of writing. Joining the fence-sitters, former Governors Barbara Roberts and John Kitzhaber, and the non-partisan Mayor of Portland, Tom Potter. Obama has, however, received the backing of both the full Democratic delegations to the Oregon State Senate and State House of Representatives.

Politically, the only other race of any interest in the state is choosing a Democrat to face (and possibly beat) incumbent Republican Gordon Smith as US Senator in November. With Kitzhaber and the entire Democratic US House delegation ruling themselves out, Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives Jeff Merkley (an Obama supporter) is facing disabled Environmental campaigner Steve Novick for the Democratic nomination, and a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, John Frohnmayer, is likely to run in November as an Independent. Merkley’s campaign is doing well in fundraising, and the presence of committed activists working the streets for an Obama supporter could make all the difference in a tight race.

What seems apparent is that Oregon could trend either way – both Clinton and Obama enjoy institutional support, and both can see demographics that typically support them. Little polling of Democrats has taken place, and neither lead enjoyed by either candidate in January and April respectively could reasonably be described as insurmountable. I believe that this state is still very much in play, and Obama would be foolish to assume that he could rely on its support.

If we accept that Obama has won the season on both Pledged delegates and the Popular Vote, the only reason that Superdelegates would be waiting before supporting him (assuming they are not all closet Clintonistas) is that they do not want to disenfranchise the few remaining states who have yet to vote.

Clinton’s major challenge will be to stop them from going wholesale to Obama on 4th June, preventing her from being viable until the Convention in late August, or even until the Credentials Committee meets on Florida and Michigan at the end of June. The question is whether (excepting North Carolina) Clinton can put in the necessary effort in Oregon to chance a near-clean sweep from her victories in Rhode Island and Ohio on March 4th through to the South Dakota and Montana challenges on 3rd June.

If so, the momentum could be sufficient to persuade Superdelegates to further delay open judgment, and thus keep her alive beyond the 4th June, thereby giving her the opportunity to ‘steal’ the ticket at the Convention in Denver. Should she lose Oregon, which seems quite possible, even she may be forced to accept that it is all over.

In the most recent poll on May 1st reported that Obama enjoyed a 51% – 39% lead over Hillary Clinton.

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