Despite Being Written Off, Write-Ins Remain In Race

Oct 18, 2012

It’s been ten years since any Republican has won a statewide election in Oregon. In fact, the GOP failed to even get anyone on the ballot for two statewide offices in last May's primary. So at the last minute, the party recruited write-in candidates for Attorney General and Treasurer. Political observers have largely written off the two candidates. But that hasn’t stopped them from campaigning enthusiastically. Salem Correspondent Chris Lehman reports.

Portland attorney James Buchal says it had never occurred to him to run for Oregon Attorney General. So why did he agree to be a write-in candidate?

Buchal: "Because they asked me to."

The Oregon Republican Party, that is. Nearly 13,000 people wrote Buchal's name on their Republican primary ballot, easily enough votes to win the GOP nomination. That gave Buchal the right to take on Ellen Rosenblum, who won the Democratic primary in a landslide. Since then he’s been a regular on the Tea Party circuit touting a limited government message that has little to do with the actual role of an Oregon Attorney General. He’s also gone to forums like this one at the African American Chamber of Commerce in Portland.

Buchal: “We are headed for an economic crisis of really, really significant proportions. And they're very proud of putting it off a little bit by running up the charge card a little higher. You know what that means? It means it's worse when it finally happens. We have a bunch of lunatics in charge of macroeconomic policy."

Buchal got a bit of a chilly reception here. But Chamber president Roy Jay thought the dialogue would be productive for the candidate.

Jay: "You need to hear from folks like this. You need to hear. Okay, this question over here…"

What you won't see at Buchal's many speaking engagements is his opponent. Ellen Rosenblum decided to forgo any debates during the general election. When she sat down with the editorial board of the Salem Statesman-Journal in June, it was clear she wasn't anticipating much of a contest.

Rosenblum: "I'm just going to be pretty much ignoring that I have an opponent in the upcoming election. I think the important thing to do is to do a really great job as Attorney General."

But ignoring her opponent doesn’t mean Rosenblum has stopped fundraising. She's reeled in nearly a half-million dollars in contributions since winning the May primary. Buchal has raised just $30,000. But even that’s more than the other GOP primary write-in winner. Tom Cox says he knew he'd have an uphill climb to get the attention of voters and donors.

Cox: "Treasurer just isn't as sexy as, well, almost any other race you could name."

Cox is using his bully pulpit, however small, to talk about his proposed overhaul of PERS, which is the state's public pension program. PERS managers have had to significantly raise the rates that local governments pay into the system. And Cox says...

Cox: "It's funny. The more you get into the Portland media market the more people just want to talk about the headline races. You get further out, and people are actually deeply concerned about what PERS is doing to the school districts and doing to the counties and the cities."

Cox’s opponent, incumbent Democrat Ted Wheeler, also says he has proposals to improve PERS. Wheeler has done a few forums with Cox, but the Democrat appears to be coasting to an easy victory over the Republican challenger. Former GOP state labor commissioner Jack Roberts says his party has just had a hard time recruiting viable candidates. And he blames the primary system.

Roberts: "I think a lot of Republicans feel in order to get through a tough Republican primary, you have to position yourself in a way that makes it tough to win a general election. And that's one of the things I think that's made it discouraging for Republicans to run statewide."

The Oregon GOP has pinned its hopes this year on its Secretary of State candidate, Knute Buehler. The Bend orthopedic surgeon has been winning newspaper endorsements and has racked up more than a million dollars in contributions. That's a level of support that write-in candidates Tom Cox and James Buchal can only dream of. And Buchal says it doesn't surprise him.

Buchal: "I thought that I would get lots of support from the rank and file, and virtually none from the people up top. And that is precisely what has happened."

Nevertheless, Oregon Republican Party spokesman Greg Leo praised Buchal and Cox. He said the two have run excellent campaigns and will represent the party well in the November election.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio