On July 21, the Independent Party of Oregon (IPO) announced the results of its primary election. It’s important to note that only 1,712 registered Independents (1.75 percent) participated in the primary. However, the actual results are not nearly as interesting as the efforts of each campaign and the parties to drive up support in this year’s swing districts.
In the gubernatorial race, State Representative Dennis Richardson (R-Central Point) received 62.1 percent of the vote compared to Governor John Kitzhaber’s 37.9 percent as he pursues an unprecedented fourth term as the state’s chief executive. The IPO results directly contradict not only conventional wisdom but poll after poll showing the governor with an impressive lead. Likewise, Republican legislative candidates swept many of the contested races in the primary, including key races in Hood River, Jackson, Marion and Washington counties. In swing districts that are thought to be leaning Democrat, Republicans had a surprising turnout.
Could this be a forerunner of the November Election?
Again, we must take the vote counts for what they are seeing as they are only a grain of sand in comparison to the number of expected voters in November. However, it is becoming clear that Republicans are taking this election serious. By courting the Independent Party and therefore independent-minded voters, who lean towards Republican ideologies according to a recent poll, Republicans can send a message to the electorate that they are not the same GOP as their sibling in Washington, D.C. and are willing to appeal to the widespread moderate electorate in Oregon that has been disenfranchised by both parties. Democrats, on the other hand, showed dismal results in the IPO Primary. Statistically speaking, nearly all of the races were won by close margins. However, the near sweep of the Republicans suggests a more collaborative statewide effort.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Independent and non-affiliated voters (NAVs) are inherently more conservative than they are liberal, likely to a 60 percent to 40 percent split. However, Republicans have failed to go after Independent voters in recent years. If the results of the IPO Primary tell us anything, it is likely that the Republicans are finally going after this advantage. If they can be successful at claiming seats in swing districts, there could be a shift in the tides of power.
In Washington County, the county with the third highest percentage of NAVs and the greatest percentage of all five Portland metropolitan counties, Republicans have the opportunity to pick up two seats with Rep. Ben Unger (D-Hillsboro) not seeking re-election and Rep. Joe Gallegos (D-Hillsboro) having his campaign prowess being tested for his first re-election. In fact, the seat currently held by Rep. Gallegos has typically shifted alongside the national waves. Out of the past seven elections, Democrats have controlled the seat in four elections (2000, 2006, 2008 and 2012) whereas Republicans controlled it in three (2002, 2004, and 2010).
Together, Independent and NAV voters make up 32.5 percent of the electorate in the district. If Republicans can continue to mobilize their efforts on independent-minded voters, there could be a winning strategy to pick up at least one if not two seats in the House of Representatives. If the IPO Primary tells us anything, it’s that the Republicans were able to mobilize a block an unconventional block of voters to win. Even if it was a small victory, it’s still a victory.