22 Jan

As 2016 White House race starts, Oregon can take it easy

It’s only 13 months until the Iowa caucuses – admit it, you’ve been counting the days – and it’s been a huge few weeks for the 2016 presidential campaign, especially on the Republican side.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush expressed his interest in going into the family business and running for president. The 2016 nominee Mitt Romney remembered that he still wanted to be president, or maybe that he had nothing else to do. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee resigned from Fox News and published “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy,” which is either a campaign book or his brunch plans. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham announced he was thinking of running, bringing the number interested Republicans to a round two dozen.

And from all of Oregon the cry went up:

It’s not our problem.

This isn’t because Oregon last voted for a Republican presidential candidate in 1984, back when Joe Biden had only been in the Senate for 12 years. Crucial nomination support from states the candidate won’t even bother to visit in the fall is a long tradition, especially important to Barack Obama in 2008.

With its mid-May primary, Oregon hasn’t really played a significant role in either party’s nomination process since at least 1976, when Joe Biden had only been in the Senate for four years. As states have leapfrogged each other to get earlier and earlier in the process – New Hampshire, defending its First in the Nation primary status, has made clear its readiness to vote on Christmas if not Thanksgiving – Oregon has flatly refused to hold its primary before the Blazers are eliminated from the playoffs.

You have to have priorities.

In 2012, with lots of GOP candidates to keep the race going, the Oregon Republican Party had big plans for the state to play a role, and even hold one of the 21 scheduled Republican candidates’ debates. But right before the Oregon debate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum dropped out, Texas Rep. Ron Paul announced he’d run out of money and would stop actively campaigning, and surviving candidate Romney said he wouldn’t come to the debate.

The only figure expected was Newt Gingrich. Understandably, Oregon Republicans cancelled the debate.

At least Oregon won’t face that kind of awkwardness next year. Last week, the Republican National Committee, suspecting that 2012’s debate-a-week schedule did not help its ultimate candidate, announced that the 2016 nomination contest would feature only nine debates, none of them here.

Romney won the Oregon primary by 60 points without ever showing up, although he did appear here briefly for a fund-raising event after the primary.

For 2016, primary time is even less on our side. The Republicans have moved their schedule forward, moving their convention from late August to mid-July, in Cleveland. (Democrats, of course, are somewhat less organized, not yet knowing where or when, although this week ABC News reported they’re closing in on a decision.) This would leave Oregon, on May 17, at the very end of the process, when the media have stopped counting delegates and started speculating on vice-presidential nominees.
(Oregon hasn’t had one of those since 1940, and that’s not likely to change any time soon, either.)

At times, remembering the Oregon primary’s long-past glory – Thomas E. Dewey! Nelson Rockefeller! Jerry Brown! – Oregon has tried to readjust its position. There has been talk of joining with Washington in a Northwest primary, and in 1996 Oregon actually held a separate presidential primary in March – which answered the question, what happens if you hold a primary and no one shows up.

Any change for 2016 would have to be made by the legislature that meets next week, and it doesn’t seem to be high on the to-do list.

And actually, that’s fine.

If you’re Iowa or New Hampshire, maybe the primary season does mean going down to the coffee shop and running into Jeb Bush. But for just about every other state, the massive money now streaming into primaries only means two weeks when voters can’t turn on their TV sets without seeing nonstop bursts of 30-second attacks on opposing candidates – and since most of them are paid for by independent expenditure groups, you don’t even get to hear a candidate say with false certainty, “I approved this message.”

Even though maybe, quietly, he did.

So maybe it’s not the worst thing to be in a state whose current attitude to the primary season is “Wake us when it’s over.”

And we’ll still get to hear about the long-range plans of Joe Biden.

NOTE: This column appeared in The Oregonian, 1/21/15.