In Oregon governor race, it’s all down to turnout

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Democrat John Kitzhaber and Republican Chris Dudley have been in a dead heat in Oregon for weeks in a governor’s race about fresh perspectives versus experience. Polls and the candidates say it’s still a dead heat just days ahead of Tuesday’s election.

So, who wins will depend on the get-out-the-vote drives political parties are running with unusual precision under the state’s vote-by-mail system.

“I think this is now a turnout issue,” Kitzhaber, who has already served two terms as governor, said this past week in an interview with The Associated Press.

Kitzhaber’s chances to be the first Oregon governor to serve three terms likely depend on the success of his party’s efforts to get his supporters to return ballots — motivating Democratic volunteers to help get ballots returned is why President Barack Obama came to the state late in the campaign.

“Statewide, the higher the turnout ... the better the chances for Kitzhaber,” said Oregon State political scientist Bill Lunch.

For months, polls have consistently shown the two candidates close, neither with an advantage of more than the polling margin of error. About a tenth of the likely voters were listed as undecided in the most recent poll done for news organizations.

The most recent turnout statistics from the secretary of state’s office, released Friday, showed a third of the ballots returned, with 40 percent of registered Republicans having returned their ballots, 37 percent of Democrats.

About 97,000 of the prized votes from non-affiliated voters were in, representing 23 percent of those registered.

Because the Democrats have a decided edge in registration, Democratic votes outpaced Republican votes by about 318,000 to about 267,000.

By now, probably more than half of Oregon voters have mailed in or dropped off their ballots ahead of Tuesday’s election.

It is now too late to mail them, but that didn’t stop get-out-the-vote efforts by Oregon Democrats and Kitzhaber himself on Saturday. Kitzhaber was scheduled to kick off the party’s canvass of volunteers on Saturday morning in the Portland metro area, which is heavily Democratic.

The Kitzhaber campaign has eight offices statewide serving as phone banks to make “easy calls to people we know are supporters,” according to a campaign press release.

Earlier, Dudley, a former NBA player in his first election campaign, held a voter outreach effort of his own at Parkrose High School in Portland. He was joined by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour.

Barbour was on a six-state swing that took him to Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan on Friday with scheduled stops in Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin on Saturday.

As is typical of Oregon Republicans, Dudley has raised more money than Kitzhaber, about $9 million to $6 million as of this past week. The total has already broken the record set four years ago in the governor’s race between Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski and Republican Ron Saxton.

In separate, recent interviews with the AP, Kitzhaber and Dudley returned to jobs issues they started with in the campaign.

Dudley has centered his campaign on proposals to cut capital gains taxes. He said they would help restore confidence among investors and entrepreneurs turned hesitant after Oregon voters approved higher taxes on wealthy households and businesses in January with votes on two measures.

Kitzhaber said investors do have confidence in Oregon, reeling off a string of developments headed by Intel’s announcement of a new computer chip plant in Hillsboro.

He said Dudley’s tax proposals would make Oregon’s budget problems much worse. “He’s taking a $3 billion deficit and driving it to a nearly $4 billion deficit,” said Kitzhaber, who has proposed a smaller cut in capital gains. Dudley disputes those figures, saying capital gains tax revenue is a miniscule part of recent state income.

Kitzhaber’s major jobs proposal is to float bonds to finance weatherization projects at schools and public buildings, an idea he said could be a model for a larger effort at private buildings.

Dudley said the weatherization work that makes economic sense has already been done, and Oregon can’t afford more debt. “The state’s credit card is maxed out,” he said.

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