The Spectacle Blog

Could Oregon Go Purple?

By on 6.2.14 | 3:28PM

Just about everyone seems highly skeptical of Republican Monica Wehby's chances in Oregon's Senate race this year.

Even the Washington Post’s cautious consideration of Wehby’s challenge to Senator Jeff Merkley paints Oregon as squarely blue, a “solidly Democratic state.”

But like its northern neighbor, Washington state, Oregon is not so blue as it is purple. Wehby’s education as a pediatric neurosurgeon and home address squarely in the Democratic stronghold of Multnomah County could bridge the communication gap between the mostly rural and Republican eastern half of the state and the very blue Portland metro area and coastal counties.

Elections in Oregon are a population rather than regional game, and Multnomah’s population in 2012—Multnomah is only one of thirty-six counties—made up almost 20 percent of the state's. In the presidential election, Multnomah County delivered 28 percent of Obama’s 937,321 votes.

With the president’s approval rating in Oregon at only 46 percent, and the failure of the state’s Obamacare rollout, a Republican woman from blue territory trusted with performing surgery on children’s brains is a strong candidate.

If health care woes make enough of Oregon’s happy hedonists angry, then Wehby has a chance to swing a few voters purple. The Oregonian reported that she has supported, and apparently still supports, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s “Healthy Americans Act,” which included elements of Obamacare like an individual mandate and an insurance exchange platform. That, her effectively pro-choice platform despite asterisks that she is personally pro-life, and her laissez-faire approach to gay marriage all give Wehby inroads into the heart of Oregon progressivism.

Her conversation with the Oregonian makes it clear, however, that Wehby is not so purple as to forget about the foundation of Oregon’s red election base: rural agricultural and timber communities. 

Farming towns rely on agricultural labor and, while Wehby does not support amnesty for illegal aliens, she does support further development of a path to legal status while securing America’s borders. It’s a realistic take on what a feasible balance between the needs of farms and national sovereignty looks like.

Oregon is a logging state and Wehby wants to grow the timber industry by opening up more access to federal lands. Wehby supports the kind of bipartisan forest bill that the House passed last year, but that is not expected to pass the Senate.

Wehby’s candidacy is not expected to pass either, but her state isn't as sad and blue as many seem to think. Oregon is purple enough that it may surprise and send Dr. Wehby, who can appeal to both sides of the divided state, to the Senate.

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