Voters are starting to receive information pamphlets on the races in play for next month's primary. Oregon's election system delivers printed guides to everyone registered to vote. That, in turn, delivers a chance for candidates to show their stuff. April Baer looks at candidate statements for the Portland Mayoral race.
Any candidate who thinks voters aren't reading the black and white mailer landing in mailboxes is missing a huge opportunity, according to Julie Williamson. She managed city campaigns for Bud Clark and Earl Blumenauer.
She explained, "The voters' pamphlet is very important because it comes out of the public document."
That stamp of authenticity counts for a lot, Williamson says. But she emphasizes the position statements and endorsements are completely under the control of the candidate.
Williamson said, "People believe somehow this information has been vetted."
It hasn't. And challenges to factual problems in the voters' guide are quite rare.
In years past, winning candidates have used their space in the pamphlet to trumpet their experience and community service in glowing terms - and to show off their connections.
Holly Armstrong is a communications strategist, now in Denver. She's worked for people like former Portland mayoral candidate Jim Francesconi and former Governor Ted Kulongoski. She says there's no question campaigns work hard on their pamphlet statements. But do those statements really matter?
Armstrong says, "I go back and forth on this. I think in a city election, there's a sense of familiarity than some other races where the constituency is bigger. But I do tend to think who's endorsing says something about who the candidate is and who they know."
Some candidates make direct first-person appeals, but successful contenders seem more inclined to have their allies describe them.
Among the three front-runners in the race for Portland Mayor, Eileen Brady uses her voter's guide space to lay out a smorgasbord of private sector work and appointments to public boards. Charlie Hales has one notable political endorsement, and it's big one: former Mayor Vera Katz. Jefferson Smith's candidate statement is a letter to voters, whom he addresses as "dear neighbor."
Former campaign consultant Julie Williamson says she noticed an interesting trend among the mayoral contenders and other candidates on the ballot for the May primary:
Williamson says, "When I look at this one, I see people are kind of avoiding running on past government experience. They kind of slide over that. They must feel the public is disenchanted with politicians."
Indeed, it's worth noting what candidates leave out of their statements.
Paul Gronke is a professor of Political Science at Reed College in Portland. He sees the contest as very fluid, and says that may send many Portlanders to their voters pamphlet seeking subtle differences among the candidates.
Gronke says "We'd like to take the best parts of each of these candidates and kind of put them together - Charlie' experience, Eileen's ability to build coalitions, Jefferson has this depth of commitment. If we could just get a piece of each, kind of stick them all together, I think we'd all be very happy."
Gronke expects the last two or three weeks of the race will be crucial. Ballots for the primary should start hitting mailboxes later this month.