Oregon Democrats are swimming in deep waters as a red wave looms this year. Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is having trouble in her gubernatorial run in a state that typically elects Democrats by landslide margins. While many pundits have viewed Oregon’s potential red turn as a political earthquake, it really shouldn’t be a surprise.
With a considerably smaller minority population than neighboring California, which is 35% white statewide, Oregon, which is 85% white statewide, forces Democrats to rely heavily on suburban college-educated white voters to win statewide.
Nationally, college-educated whites tend to vote more Democratic for federal elections than state and local races. Though college-educated whites are trending left, with Biden winning them considerably more than Clinton or Obama ever did, reversion to the GOP tends to happen during Democratic Presidents’ midterm years (as Virginia showcased last year).
Portland’s large media market and liberal reputation tend to lead pundits and the public to regard the state overall as a progressive bastion. However, despite Democratic Presidential candidates consistently winning the state by double digits, Oregon has always had a surprisingly competitive political environment when examined on the down-ballot.
OREGON VOTING PATTERNS
Governor 2002: Democrat+3.2 (Bush’s 1st midterm)
Governor 2006: Democrat+8 (Bush’s six-year itch)
Governor 2010: Democrat+1.5 (Obama’s 1st midterm)
Governor 2014: Democrat+5.4 (Obama’s six-year itch)
Governor 2016: Democrat+7.1 (Special election)
Governor 2018: Democrat+6.4 (Trump’s midterm)
Even in the bluest of blue waves, not a single Democratic gubernatorial nominee has been able to carry the state by double digits, in stark contrast to their federal counterparts.
Moreover, with a liberal-leaning Independent on the ballot and a heavy shadow being cast by an unpopular incumbent Dem. Governor and President, Tina Kotek (the Democratic nominee) is in a bind.
Oregon Democrats have always had to claw their way to the Governor’s mansion, this year is no different.