The Trail Blazer: A New GOP Star in the West by Gregory Hilton

The Oregon Republican Party has a 23 year record of losing gubernatorial elections, but similar to the rest of the nation, independent and moderate voters are now shifting to the GOP column. George W. Bush lost the state twice, and John McCain was clobbered here in 2008 when Obama received 57% of the vote. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) has so far been cruising to an easy 2010 re-election with a 55 to 33% approval rating, and no significant Republican challenger is on the horizon.
Oregon is definitely in Blue America, and Democrats have firm control of both houses in the state legislature. However the dismal approval rating of the incumbent Democratic governor (37%) and the state legislature (26%) has GOP strategists believing an upset is possible.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D), the two term incumbent, is not eligible for re-election, and former two term Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) is trying for a come back in 2010. Both Democrats have pushed tax increases and are in favor of an additional tax hike despite the state’s high unemployment. They do not understand the simple concept that trying to tax the state into prosperity isn’t going to work. They have also caved into every labor union demand.
Many Republicans had been hoping to nominate former Senator Gordon Smith or Rep. Greg Walden, but neither has stepped forward. Now considerable enthusiasm is behind former Portland Trail Blazers center Chris Dudley, 44. He is 6’ 11”, and graduated from Yale with degrees in economics and political science. He is already equal to the Democrats in fundraising.
Comparisons are already being made between Dudley and basketball sensations Bill Bradley and Dave Bing. Bradley of the New York Knicks began his campaign one year after retiring from basketball and served three terms in the Senate. Bing of the Detroit Pistons is now the mayor of his home town.
In 1994 Dudley signed a six year $24 million contract with the Trail Blazers. It was one of the NBA’s largest contracts at the time. He won the NBA’s Citizenship Award, USA Today’s Most Caring Athlete Award, and the Freedom Corp Award. His grandfather, Guilford Dudley, was the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark during the Nixon and Ford administrations.
The GOP basketball star enters the race with high name recognition and excellent fundraising prospects. Oregon’s 11.1% unemployment rate is well above the national average and Dudley says job creation is “the focal point of my campaign.” Over 100,000 Oregonians have lost jobs during the past year. “Our state is in a jobs crisis,” Dudley says, “All the legislature and Governor have done about this is punish job creators with higher taxes, cannibalize our education system with out-of-control pension costs, and let government spending grow at an unsustainable rate.”
He is promising to make Oregon more business friendly by wiping out regulations that are stopping economic growth. It is wrong to “overtax and over regulate the very people who are motivated to create jobs,” and he blames the states fiscal problems on public employee unions and an anti-business state legislature. Oregon’s reliance on high personal, corporate and capital gains taxes makes the state a less attractive place to locate a business, or keep one going.
Dudley has no experience in elected office, but says that is a plus: “I believe it is a strength and not a weakness that I haven’t spent the last 30 years in politics. Our state government has grown stale at the hands of insiders.”
Dudley’s must first get past four candidates in the GOP primary, and is already being criticized for not voting in 7 of the last 13 elections. His top challenger is Allen Alley, a former venture capitalist and co-founder of Pixelworks, a high-tech company. Alley was serving as Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Kulongoski in 2008 when he resigned to accept the GOP nomination for State Treasurer, but then lost the November election.
Chris Dudley’s focus on job creation and economic issues is being well received. Polling data indicates the Oregon electorate is pro-choice and in favor of gay marriage. High profile pro-life and social conservative candidates have been rejected in many past general elections. A social conservative can win, but it would not be wise to emphasize those issues in the fall 2010 campaign.
The successful Oregon Republicans of the not too distant past include liberal Senator Mark Hatfield, and moderates such as Senator Bob Packwood and Governors Tom McCall and Victor Atiyeh. Oregon has never elected a hard right conservative to statewide office.
A GOP candidate has to walk a tightrope because if they stray too far from social conservative issues the religious right will mount a third party challenge. That happened to former Attorney General Dave Frohnmayer (R) in his 1990 gubernatorial campaign in which a social conservative third party candidate received 15% of the vote.
Republican hope Kerry Eggers, the Portland Tribune columnist is speaking for many when he wrote: “I’ll be voting for Chris Dudley for governor if he wins the Republican primary. I’m a full-fledged Democrat, and Chris is a Republican. I’m crossing party lines, and couldn’t be more than happy to do so. Mine will be a vote for a straight shooter, a man of integrity, a man I can believe in to run this state. I’ve known Dudley since 1993.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s