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Whither The Future For Oregon GOP?


There’s an internal power struggle underway in the Oregon Republican Party.  What might typically have been a routine election for a behind-the-scenes post as party chair has raised deeper issues of concern about the future of the GOP in Oregon.  

The party has fallen on hard times after racking up loss after loss in recent elections.  Salem correspondent Chris Lehman has more.


When GOP strategist Dan Lavey gave a post-election analysis at the Portland City Club, he didn’t mince his words.

Dan Lavey:  “I think the Republican Party in Oregon is dead.”

And he wasn’t about to deliver a eulogy full of praise for the departed.

Dan Lavey:  “All that’s really left about the Republican Party here in Oregon is ideology.  There’s not really many ideas.”

Nobody jumped up to disagree with Lavey’s assessment.  After all, the GOP’s only statewide office holder, U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, had just lost a brutal re-election campaign.  

Republicans also lost a slew of seats in the Oregon Legislature. And Democrats ended the election season with a commanding 230,000 voter registration edge over Republicans.  

So who’s to blame for the Republicans’ hard times?  Former State Representative Bob Tiernan casts a wide net.

Bob Tiernan:  “If you want to look at blame, we’re probably all to blame.  Everybody who calls themselves a Republican in this state probably shares a little blame.”

Tiernan’s no casual observer.  He’s tossed his hat in the ring to become the next head of the Oregon Republican Party.

Tiernan sees a lot of room for improvement from the current leadership.

Bob Tiernan:  “I think where Republicans have gone wrong is they’ve gotten lazy.  We haven’t been doing voter registration of Republicans in this state.  We haven’t.  We haven’t done a very good job of getting candidates to run for office.  We haven’t.” 

In fact, Republicans failed to put anyone on the ballot in nearly a third of all Legislative races this year.  

That’s a no-show rate three times as high as Democrats.  And not a single Republican entered the race for Oregon Attorney General.  

Still, the current Oregon GOP chair, Vance Day, is optimistic.  He’s trying to hold off Tiernan and other possible challengers so that he can remain in charge of the Oregon Republican Party.  

Day says with the economy in the tank and Democrats at the helm, Republicans stand a chance at making big gains in 2010.

Vance Day:  “Every single time the Democrats have had control of both houses and the Governorship, they run the ship of state off the cliff when it comes to taxes and spending.  If Oregonians really want change, I think that the Democrats are going to give them a good reason to do that in this election cycle.”

GOP Woes
Ivonne Pflaum leads a brainstorming session of Washington County Republicans at a Tualatin restaurant.

If Republicans are to have any chance of rebounding, they’ll have to rely on people like Ivonne Plfaum.  She’s a precinct committee person in suburban Washington County. Here, Pflaum is going over grassroots strategies during a Republican meet-up at a Tualatin restaurant.  

She’s says she’s not discouraged even though only three people have shown up for this brainstorming session.  But she concedes her party has failed to connect with Oregon voters.

Ivonne Pflaum:  “I think that we as Republicans need to do a better job describing what we stand for and then sticking with that, and then being consistent.”

For Pflaum, Republicans stand for traditional family values.  Other Republican leaders lean on the issues of limited government and the free market.  

Current GOP chair Vance Day says those are principles that still appeal to Oregonians, despite the recent gains by Democrats.

Vance Day:  “When you look at the average Oregonian, the average middle class person who works a long day and then ends up marking that ballot—they vote center right, typically.”

Oregon Democrats say they’re not resting on their laurels.  After all, it was only a little more than a decade ago that Republicans held both U.S. Senate seats and a commanding margin in the Oregon Legislature.

Oregon Republicans are set to pick their next leader at a meeting in Lake Oswego on January 10th.

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