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Republican 'Farm Team' Not Out Yet In State Races

Republicans are gearing up for next year’s re-election bid by U.S. Senator Gordon Smith.  But the earnest preparations for Oregon’s Republican Senator has not translated into momentum for Republicans in state offices.

Three state contests are wide open next year.  Attorney General Hardy Myers, Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and state Treasurer Randall Edwards are all leaving office.

All three are Democrats.  And as Colin Fogarty reports, no Republicans have stepped up to run for any of those positions.

State Representative Greg MacPherson of Lake Oswego wants to be the next attorney general.  So does former federal prosecutor John Kroger.

John Kroger: "I’m here today to announce my candidacy to the next Attorney General of Oregon." 

The race to be the next Secretary of State is even more crowded. Three state senators — Brad Avakian of Washington County, Vicki Walker of Eugene, and Kate Brown of Portland — are seeking the job. Brown even has a catchy campaign slogan.

Kate Brown: "Just remember, Vote Kate for Secretary of State in ’08.  Thank you very much."

This week, state Senator Ben Westlund is expected to get into the race for state Treasurer, with the backing of Governor Ted Kulongoski.

All of those candidates for the top three jobs in Oregon state government are Democrats.  No Republicans have announced, even though the May primary is now seven months away.

Oregon Republican Party chair Vance Day says he’s trying to line up one candidate for each of those seats to avoid messy primary fights.

Vance Day: "People normally are just jumping into the race in September or October.  It does seem odd that we’re kind of waiting a bit.  But we’ve got some very good candidates that we’re trying to help build up some strong backing.  And that’s the key really, because if you don’t have strong backing, you can’t win."

But Republican activists have privately complained that their “farm team” is not well developed.  That means there are few skilled political players ready step up to the major leagues.

Several high profile Republicans in the Oregon legislature are leaving politics.  And the ones who remain concede it's tough to win statewide in Oregon.

Jason Atkinson: "The Republicans’ house is not in order."

Republican state Senator Jason Atkinson, of southern Oregon, ran for his party’s nomination for governor last year and plans to run for that job again in 2010.   Atkinson says he thought about running for Secretary of State this year and begged off.

Jason Atkinson: "Our party is really split in three different ways.  We have people who are in the grass roots.  We’ve got people who are really connected to the lobby and that whole culture in Salem.  And then we have people who are connected to traditionally big donors.  And all three of those groups really don’t talk to each other.  So for us as Republicans when we do a race, we have to reinvent the wheel every time from the state."

Democrats, on the other hand, have managed to streamline their various constituencies.

In fact, the party has its political operations consolidated under one roof in northeast Portland.  But Democratic Party chair Merideth Wood Smith points to two other factors that favor Democrats running for statewide office next year.

First, she says Democratic activists are energized after two terms of President Bush.

Secondly, she says, in Oregon anyway, Democratic officials have become known for a quality that may not get much attention – basic competence.

Meredith Wood Smith: "People want to believe that the government that they elect, that they can trust, that it's going to work on their behalf and it’s going to be there for them.  And I think that’s what happens when we look at why we have so many qualified people stepping up for statewide races.  I think it’s because we get things done."

But Republicans remain confident they’ll find someone to run for the three big seats that are open next year.

State Senator Bruce Starr of Hillsboro is said to be considering a run for Secretary of State.  And there’s some talk of former candidate for governor Kevin Mannix getting into the race for Attorney General.  But Mannix says he’s trying to as he put it “hold the door open for someone else to run” and isn’t currently planning to be a candidate.

Republicans plan a four-day training session this weekend for political activists.   It’s the same weekend Democrats are planning to hold their biennial summit in central Oregon.

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