The so-called “red wave” did not materialize in the 2022 election. Nonetheless, the GOP made some significant gains nationally and in the Northwest. Republicans will have control of the U.S. House, and in Oregon, they broke the Democratic supermajority in the state House. And Oregon was one of the few blue states in the country where Republicans gained legislative seats. Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer took the 5th Congressional District. The seat was held by the moderate seven-term Democrat Kurt Schrader, but he lost to the more progressive Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the May primary. We talk about these wins and the future of the Oregon Republican party with political strategists Reagan Knopp and Julie Parrish.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. The so-called ‘red wave’ didn’t materialize in the 2022 election, but the GOP made some significant gains nationally and in the Northwest. In Oregon, they broke the democratic supermajorities in the state legislature and gained another seat in Congress, along with rightward shifts in county commissions and Portland’s city government. At the same time, they failed to capture the biggest statewide prize on the ballot this cycle: the governorship. Joining us to talk about those wins, that loss, and the future of the Oregon Republican party are the political strategists Reagan Knopp and Julie Parrish. Welcome back to Think Out Loud.
Julie Parrish: Thanks for having us.
Miller: It’s good to have both of you on. I just want to start briefly with the national picture, because the national hopes for Republicans leading up to this election were of a ‘red wave,’ meaning commanding leads in both chambers of Congress and lots of pickups in other races. But as former Vice President Mike Pence put it in a recent interview, the wave was more like a ripple. Reagan first, were you surprised nationally?
Reagan Knopp: Yeah, I think we saw a lot of indicators that there was potentially going to be a ‘red wave’ and it didn’t materialize. So I was a little bit surprised on election night; turnout numbers were looking good, but there’s still over half of Oregonians who cast their ballots in the last couple of days. There was a lot of opportunity for that to change, obviously.
Miller: Julie, what about you? Looking just briefly at this national picture, what were you expecting and how different was it from what happened?
Parrish: I was expecting that Republicans would take the House; that felt like a no-brainer. [I] didn’t have a specific number in mind, and I thought we’d become a little bit closer in the Senate. But I think abortion was a big issue with the decision out of the Supreme Court to send abortion rights back to the state and overturn Roe [v. Wade]. So that played out in a lot of campaigns, whether candidates were pro-life or pro-choice. That was just a drum that got banged and made it very difficult for, I think, Republicans to talk about issues that matter equally, if not more; things like crime and the economy. And I just think that was a very persuasive message on the part of the Democrats this cycle.
Miller: So let’s turn specifically to different aspects of the Oregon election, starting with the legislature. Here, there was talk similar to the national talk of Republicans, [of] maybe winning majorities in the two chambers. In the end, that didn’t happen. And Republicans have had to settle for a few pickups that did erase Democratic supermajorities, meaning that democrats cannot pass tax increases without buy-in from at least some Republicans. Julie, first, what do you think happened, overall in these legislative races?
Parrish: I think the most gettable possibility was in the Senate. I know that the media called one of the Senate races, but [I’ll] make the quick plug; if you got a letter from your county clerk that says your signature didn’t match your ballot, the election is actually still going in at least a couple of races. People don’t realize that because we’re a vote by mail state, that there’s still these challenge ballots that need fixing. There are a few races that actually are really close, could determine one more seat in the Senate and could determine one more seat in the House. So the election is not over until December 5th.
Again, I think that the messaging. . .we had candidates who had their position on abortion issues manipulated in messaging against them. And I think that issue is not just quite as black and white. So that played a key role. I also think [the] money. The Democrats just, frankly, talk a good game about campaign finance reform. Then you see how much money that the Senate District 20 race cost, with Mark Meek in that race, more than $700,000 more than his opponent, for a job that pays $2,600 a month. So that should tell voters a lot about how these elections moved. Frankly, I think money played a key factor.
Miller: And you see money, that’s one reason in particular. But looking broadly, you see money as a reason, statewide, that Republicans didn’t do as well as you’d hoped?
Parrish: Well, [in] the governor’s race, Kotek outspent Drazan by several million dollars. Having run a lot of campaigns, I know that it does take dollars to reach voters and to get the message out there and to have that conversation. And when your opponent can beat up on you with messages that are not true, you don’t have the money to defend yourself. I think that absolutely sways voters.
Miller: We can get to the governor’s race in a second. I’ll just mention that Betsy Johnson spent millions and millions of dollars as well, and had less than 9% of the vote to show for it.
But Reagan Knopp, sticking just a little bit longer on the legislature. What do you think, that the likely numbers in the legislature - meaning majorities for Democrats, but narrower than before and no supermajorities - what do you think that’s going to mean for the functioning of lawmaking in Salem?
Knopp: I think [the] House will end up at 35 Democrats, 25 Republicans, [the] Senate will be most likely 17 Democrats, 13 Republicans. And you’re right, that breaks the supermajority. I don’t have the numbers for the House. But the margin in the Senate, between two Senate races, Senate District 3 and Senate District 20, which Democrats both won . . . that’s only 2,850 votes that separate us between a 17-13 split and 15-15 [split]. So I think voters were sort of indicating that they want more bipartisanship and more working together between Republicans and Democrats. But I think you’ve really got two paths that the session can travel now. Democrats can say, ‘We held the majorities in a year where Republicans made gains, and that means Democrats and voters in general support all of the progressive ideas we have.’ Or they can say, ‘Our majorities were narrowed, which means we don’t have buy-in from all Oregonians, we need to pursue a more bipartisan tact.’ They still lead the chambers, so it’s still on them to set that tone. And whatever tone they set, is gonna be the one that the session ultimately follows in.
I think on the campaign side that Republicans did a pretty good job. We did a lot better in fundraising this year. We’ve been badly outspent. So we did a lot better in early fundraising, but Julie is right. And the late money onslaught from Democrats, because they felt that their majorities in the governorships were in peril, was just something we couldn’t compete with. So ultimately we were unable to close those final gaps.
Miller: Julie, another wrinkle in terms of the legislature is that voters approved, pretty overwhelmingly, a constitutional amendment to make it harder for lawmakers to walk out. I mean, to be clear, they can still do so, but if they have 10 unexcused absences, then they’ll be barred from running again. That’s what voters approved. How do you think that’s going to affect this session?
Parrish: Well, it’s not like legislators walk out all the time. It made some news a few years ago, but that was the first time Republicans had used that tool in a major way. Kate Brown had used it over redistricting when she was in the Senate. So both parties have used that tool . . .
Miller: Just to be clear, the reason this was a ballot measure though, is because it was used prominently three years in a row and it hadn’t been for about 16 years, I think before that. So it was a major issue in recent years.
Parrish: Well, let’s be clear. It’s a ballot measure because the Public Employees’ Union put it on the ballot, not because average everyday citizens made that happen. They ultimately voted for it, but this has taken away a tool from the minority that both parties used; Democrats in Texas do it, too, when they’re frustrated by having the minority voice not be heard. And so yes, it takes away a tool. I don’t know that 10 days is game changing, based on the way you can run the math in the building. I mean, I still think that they’re probably some windows where either side could walk out even under the new rule if they chose to do that and still not be expelled.
Miller: Let’s go from the legislature to the governor. This was seen as maybe the best chance for a Republican candidate to win the office in a long time. But in the end, Christine Drazan lost by a larger margin than Chris Dudley did in 2010. Reagan Knopp first, how do you explain the results?
Knopp: I think, nationally, Dudley got the benefit of an actual ‘red wave’ that materialized, that split the House 30-30, brought the Senate to 16-14 and got him with 1.5 points. So I’d say a three point gap in a much tougher year is actually a really great performance. And I would say we obviously had a lot of great work, and I don’t want to take anything away from the folks that did great work on Senate and House campaigns, but I think Drazan running a strong campaign at the top of the ticket prevented us from potentially actually losing seats or not picking up anything. So I think Drazan ran a really strong, really smart campaign, but we needed a better environment nationally and better turnout. Or more Republican leading turnout and better Republican voting from non-affiliates and Independents who, nationally, the data [shows] they were pretty split between Republicans and Democrats, maybe 51-49 either way, depending on where you were at. So I think it was a strong performance, but the voter registration advantage for Democrats and that late money that Julie talked about that Kotek was spending, and ended up outspending with, ultimately, I think were two major deciding factors.
Miller: Julie Parrish, how do you think that the Independent candidate, Betsy Johnson, who ended up getting a little under 9% of the vote, affected this race?
Parrish: I don’t actually think she had as much effect as people want to think. And I say that because when I ran Dennis Richardson’s Republican race for Secretary of State, there were six candidates on the ballot that election cycle, including an Independent candidate, [who were] not as well funded, obviously. But I’m not opposed to having a lot of choice on the ballot. So I do think that she took votes, but our data showed that she was taking them equally from Republicans and Democrats. I think there’s a population in Oregon who are just kind of tired of all the partisan politics. And you see that with some of the ballot measures that people are proposing to do, things like independent redistricting. There’s a top two primary effort back at the ballot again, that we are looking to gather signatures for.
I think her candidacy represents a part of the electorate that’s just really frustrated and some of those people wouldn’t have ever voted for Drazan and some of them would never have voted for Kotek. So she gave them a choice, but usually with the minor parties, there’s a lot of choice still on the ballot that people can do besides the two major parties, because our state laws require that minor parties, to hold their status, have to run statewide candidates every election cycle, basically. So there’s always going to be a different choice. She certainly ran a well funded choice, but ultimately, I think people kind of come back to their own parties, when the ballot is in front of them in their home.
Miller: Reagan, I’m curious who you see as the de facto leader, if there is one, of the Oregon Republican party right now? I mean, technically there is a state party apparatus and Justin Wang is the chair of that, but you could easily argue that on the Democratic side, Tina Kotek, as the Governor-elect, is the leader of Democrats in Oregon. Who would you point to at this point for Republicans?
Knopp: I would say it’s their legislative leaders, House Republican leader, Vikki Breese-Iverson, and Senate Republican leader, Tim Knopp, ultimately. They’re the ones that are going to have the most opportunity to get in the media and talk about Republican priorities, especially when it comes to responding, because we don’t have anyone in the, obviously, in the executive branch, so the legislative branch is left to respond to what Kotek and the Democrats put forward. Ultimately, I’d say it’s the legislative leaders that are going to be leading and have to make a decision about what kind of party they want to put forward in the 2023 session and beyond into the next election cycle.
Miller: I should point out that the Senate Minority Leader, Tim Knopp is your father, just by chance.
Julie, let’s turn to Congress. Obviously, as I noted, the big Republican pickup was Lori Chavez-DeRemer, who won Oregon’s 5th [Congressional] District over Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who herself had beaten the moderate Democratic incumbent, Kurt Schrader, in the primary. What else has stood out to you in terms of Oregon’s Congressional races?
Parrish: I think the new [Congressional District] 6 race was interesting, and again, late money, a lot of bashing on TV, with some statements that weren’t necessarily true. And people say they hate negative campaigns and yet voters are swayed by negative messaging and we see it time and again. I think a stronger candidate could have taken off Salinas and we could have picked up the 6th Congressional District as well.
The 5th [Congressional District] has always been very moderate, and every time they’ve tried to run somebody left of Kurt Schrader, the Democrats have failed there. I think that Lori Chavez-DeRemer is our first female Republican, Hispanic Republican, headed to Congress. She fits the district in terms of her values and views, her positions on taxation and business issues.
[Congressional District] 5 has a lot of business owners, small business owners who are small employers, and I think she speaks to them in terms of trying to have policies that come out of D.C. that positively impact our communities. And I don’t think McLeod-Skinner had much to offer there. I think Salinas has a legislative track record that appeals to some. But at the same time, I think Mike Erickson had some flaws in his campaign and a stronger candidate might have taken her off, because that race was also close, like 6,000 votes separate that Congressional District. And when you look at areas that [Congressional District] 6 covers . . . Yamhill, which is very conservative, that county commission this election cycle just went solidly Republican. All three members there are now Republican even though they’re non-partisan races. But the politics out there are more conservative. So I think a stronger candidate two years from now could give Salinas a pretty good run for her money.
Miller: Reagan just briefly, you put out a series of tweets last week that caught my attention, along the lines of what Julie was just saying in terms of the Yamhill County Commission. Looking more broadly at county commission races across the state - as you noted, these are non-partisan races, but voters normally have a pretty good sense for the ideology that the candidates have - what did you see in terms of conservative momentum at the county level?
Knopp: It definitely seems like Republicans are overperforming. There’s only a handful of counties, Multnomah, Washington and Benton County being the three largest ones, that have all or majority Democrat representation. A lot of the big and swing counties are actually pretty well represented amongst Republicans. Lane County will have a three-two conservative split against the liberals. Deschutes [County] held two Republicans. And since there were two on the ballot in only three total, they’ll hold that for four years. Marion [County] remains three Republicans. Clackamas [County] is going to be four conservatives, one liberal.
So county after county with just a handful of exceptions, Republicans did really, really well at the local level. I think you just see that that’s kind of a counterbalance to what’s happening in Salem. We think back to the climate change legislation that Democrats pushed to kill jobs. All the counties, pretty much, except for a few, organized against that, because it was such an important issue. And it was the local government pushing back on state government and what they felt was significant overreach into their communities and was going to be devastating for their communities. And so they organized on that, and I think you see that push and pull as state government remains Democratic, maybe local government becomes a little bit more conservative, to kind of act as a counterbalance.
Parrish: I was just going to quickly add, we also saw that play out in what I would consider like your law and order races, right? Sheriff races, district attorneys’ races this year. Although some of those were largely resolved in May. The progressive candidates who actually were campaigning as ‘I’m a Democrat, vote for me for District Attorney,’ in non-partisan races. They actually lost those races and some of them quite badly, because they’re pushing ideas that I think voters, especially on crime, are just not into. So I think that Reagan’s really right, that local level of government, when you don’t have to run with the ‘R’ national brand after your name here in Oregon, voters actually are attracted to some of those ideas of just, good government, because the government closest to home can do the most damage or the most good and it can do it the quickest.
Miller: Reagan and Julie, thanks very much.
Knopp: Thank you.
Miller: Reagan Knopp and Julie Parrish are Republican political strategists. Julie Parrish is also a former Republican state lawmaker.
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