Oregon Republicans were quick at their party’s national convention Monday to highlight an issue they think might bring them political gains — the nightly protests for racial justice in Portland.
At the traditional roll call of states to nominate President Donald Trump, state GOP Chairman Bill Currier blasted Gov. Kate Brown and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler:
“In stark contrast to our governor and the feckless mayor of Portland, along with the Democrat presidential candidate in hiding,” Currier told a national audience, “President Trump has stood up to the violent thugs and those who seek to destabilize our state with anarchy and destruction, giving us hope we can make Oregon safe again.”
Trump and other conservatives have repeatedly attacked Oregon leaders, saying that they have not done enough to quell illegal acts at nightly protests that began nearly three months ago. Russ Walker, an Oregon delegate to the convention and an adviser to the Trump campaign, said he expects Republicans to continue highlighting the Portland demonstrations the issue at their convention and argues that it could help boost Republican prospects in Oregon in the fall.
“it is definitely impacting the way people are looking at this election,” said Walker, adding that he is urging Trump campaign leaders to consider mounting a serious campaign in Oregon in the fall. Republicans in Oregon legislative and congressional races, even ones whose districts sit far from Portland, have also tried to use the demonstrations as a campaign issue in a state that leans heavily Democratic.
Brown and Wheeler both say they’ve been trying to protect the free-speech rights of people demonstrating against systemic racism and police abuses while attempting to deal with the small minority who have damaged property, set fires or tossed projectiles at police. “We’re all considering all options, Wheeler told OPB last week.
Rosa Colquitt, who co-chaired Oregon’s delegation for last week’s Democratic convention, charged that Republicans are oversimplifying protests against the “killing of unarmed black and brown Americans” and ignoring “other forces at work.” She pointed to this weekend’s brawls involving demonstrators from the right and the left, and the massing of federal police forces in Portland that were accused of often-brutal conduct.
Solomon Yue, a member of the Republican National Committee from Salem, said he thinks many voters have a more negative view of the protests.
In particular, many female voters “worry about antifa rioters marching in their communities,” he said, referring to the leaderless anti-fascist movement that Trump has often criticized. And, Yue added, “women worry about local governments not enforcing the law … and Democratic leaders pushing for defunding the police.”
The Portland protests didn’t come up in the Monday evening speeches, but most of the major speakers accused Democrats of seeking to weaken police departments and harm public safety.
“They will defund, dismantle, and destroy America’s law enforcement. When you are in trouble and need police, don’t count on the Democrats,” charged Kimberly Guilfoyle, a top Trump campaign fundraiser and the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr.
A St. Louis couple who gained national attention for pointing guns at Black Lives Matter demonstrators who marched by their home also spoke. They complained they were charged with unlawful use of a weapon.
“It seems as if the Democrats no longer view the government’s job as protecting honest citizens from criminals,” said Mark McCloskey, “but rather protecting criminals from honest citizens.” Patricia McCloskey warned, “What you saw happened to us could just as easily happen to any of you who are watching from quiet neighborhoods around our country. "
On Tuesday morning, Trump took to Twitter to once again urge Brown and Wheeler to deploy the National Guard in Portland, saying of the Oregon officials, “They must stop calling these anarchists and agitators ‘peaceful protesters.’”
Brown on June 1 called up 50 National Guard members to help police in support roles. But she said then that it was a mistake to try to defuse violence by putting soldiers on the streets. On Tuesday, she responded to Trump’s latest social media blast with her own tweet: “Oregon isn’t interested in a role in your political theater ... The Oregon Guard is focused on fighting wildfires, distributing PPE & helping with unemployment calls. I’d love to discuss what we actually need: financial resources, N-95 masks & testing supplies.”
Yue watched Monday’s proceedings from the Oregon coast, where he said he has been working on a business project. But he said he may attend Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday night on the South Lawn of the White House.
In 2016, the Trump campaign hired an Oregon campaign manager and made noises about seriously contesting the state for the first time since national Republicans last made a real effort here in 2004. But the staffer was shifted in the fall to the battle-ground state of Michigan, and Democrat Hillary Clinton won Oregon by 11 percentage points in the fall.
While Democrats held a convention that was largely virtual, Republicans are providing live audiences for some of their key events. They gathered more than 300 delegates from around the country — mostly members of the Republican National Committee — to a ballroom in Charlotte to officially nominate Trump for reelection. Both the president and vice president addressed the delegates, including six from Oregon.
“I really felt good about the energy in the room,” said Walker, adding that the delegates applauding Trump and Pence presented a stark contrast to the Democrats. “It’s hard to have energy when nobody is in the room,” he said.
Following the Charlotte proceedings, Walker headed to the airport for a flight to Washington, D.C. where he said he will attend a series of events culminating in Trump’s White House speech.