Oregonians and Sconnies. Both known to be friendly, and both have similarly chirpy accents which likely have roots in their shared German and Scandinavian ancestry. Both have hosted great beer traditions. Some city planning enthusiasts here regard Portland as the big brother Madison aspires to be in the realms of transportation, culture and environmental conservation. Last but not least, both are politically moderate, and have historically been regarded as swing states.
Why then, is our incumbent Democratic senator on track to lose next Tuesday, while Oregon's is barely an afterthought this cycle?
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), first elected in a special election in 1995, is a centrist Democrat who supports the death penalty and has sided with the GOP on a number of civil liberties issues, including denying the right of habeas corpus to detainees. Although he opposed the Bush tax cuts, he is against the estate tax and supports reductions in the capital gains tax. He voted against the "bailout." Otherwise he is line with his party, including on major issues such as health care, the stimulus and the energy policy.
FiveThirtyEight projects Wyden to win by as much as 20 points over his Republican opponent, Jim Huffman, who has been outspent but has still managed to pony up $1.5 million so far. In contrast, the same model projects Ron Johnson beating Feingold by 7 points next week.
Oregon has become slightly more Democratic than Wisconsin in recent cycles, but it is not bluer than its neighbor to the North, Washington State. Obama and Kerry fared better there than in Oregon, and yet, its incumbent Democratic senator, Patty Murray, is in a tough re-election battle against Republican Dino Rossi.
Ron Johnson's money certainly has played a role in his success, however, recall that polls put Republicans within striking range of Feingold before there was even a GOP candidate. Feingold was vulnerable from the get-go, similar to Murray.
Tis puzzling for an Oregon outsider to understand. Wyden is a much less appealing figure to those who seek great speeches and goose-bump inducing defenses of principle. For that reason is he hardly known outside of his state. Kind of like Herb Kohl.
His campaign message was strikingly similar to Feingold's. He repeatedly touted his vote against the bailout, as well as his commitment to Oregon in the face of pressure from Washington "insiders" and corporate lobbyists.
Perhaps the difference is that Oregon's conservative base is less motivated than Wisconsin's. Does Oregon have an equivalent of Waukesha County? A Republican Party can not be centered on rural voters -- its finance and activism is centered on wealthy suburbs. Polls which show Feingold running even in the Northeast but suffering greatly in the area arround Milwaukee seems to indicate the source of the "enthusiasm gap."
I have emailed some contacts who might know a thing or two about Oregon, including family members. This subject is not over!