Could Oregon's First Lady sink the Governor next month?

A couple of weeks ago we learned that the First Lady of Oregon (and fiance of Governor John Kitzhaber) had been involved in some profitable marital activity in years past. Things haven’t gotten any better in the ensuing days. It turns out that the entrepreneurial minded Ms. Hayes also looked into purchasing some land to grow pot long before it was legal and was getting payola to push policies in the state government. With all of these stories stacking up one after another, could this mean that GOP gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson might topple Kitzhaber on November 4th?

Jim Geraghty is dubious at best.

Heading into this year, Richardson appeared to have a golden opportunity. Kitzhaber is seeking an unprecedented fourth term after the Cover Oregon health-care debacle, an embarrassing education-reform czar, frivolous junkets, and an electorate greeting the prospect of another four years with weary resignation at best. Since the earliest polls in the cycle, Kitzhaber has polled in the mid to upper 40s, a vulnerable level of support for an incumbent. And yet there’s little sign that Kitzhaber’s troubled third term will be much of an obstacle to his reelection bid. The only sign of any progress for Richardson is one poll putting him down by seven points — which is actually a bigger margin than some polls showed in early spring.

Kitzhaber’s television ads follow the predictable too-extreme-for-our-fair-state tone, citing his opponent’s past comments on abortion, gay marriage, and deporting illegal immigrants, and concluding: “That’s Dennis Richardson. That’s not Oregon.”

As Jim notes, the GOP was actually competitive in Oregon for quite a while, up until at least 2006, holding statewide offices regularly. But over the last ten years it’s really drifted further leftward and become tough sledding. That’s going to make it a lot more difficult for Richardson to capitalize on this, given that the Governor has a significant volume of built-in supporters who are effectively a captive audience. Also, while these scandals are serious, really only the last one – influence peddling by his fiance – could possibly be tied directly to him. What Cylvia did when she was younger can’t really be hung around his neck as long as they both stick to the story that he never knew about it. And trying to tie the influence selling job to him would take a lot more time, assuming there’s anything there to find.

Further, Oregonians vote by mail, and that began on the 15th. Who knows how many citizens had already cast their ballots before the thick and heavy news about the First Lady really built up a head of steam? (You may recall we discussed the impact of early voting here before.) In the end, if this parade of bad headlines can’t get Richardson closer than seven points, it may be a bit overly optimistic to look at the Oregon governor’s race as a possible GOP takeaway at this point.