Election Day no longer exists, at least not as we knew it.
Whether because of anxiety, enthusiasm or some other reasons, Americans are turning out in record numbers to vote early.
Oregonians are among them. By Thursday, more than 25% of registered voters had cast ballots, and John Horvick of DHM Research predicts the final turnout could hit 85%.
“The election isn’t Nov. 3. The election is now,” Horvick said. “The opportunity for a campaign to make a change or an impact is diminishing literally by the hour.”
Horvick, who is DHM’s director of client relations and political research, and I talked Thursday about the election while the political scrambling continued. He noted that more Democrats have voted early, but Republicans are narrowing that gap in Oregon and elsewhere.
Even in Oregon, the presidential race is propelling the high turnout, according to Horvick. That surprised me because the Trump-Biden race is not competitive anywhere in the Pacific Northwest. Democrat Joe Biden is way ahead in Oregon and Washington, as Republican President Donald Trump is in Idaho.
“So much of politics has become nationalized,” Horvick explained. “That’s not an Oregon phenomenon. You see that everywhere. So much of that is because the power of the presidency has increased over the years. The centralization of media has increased over the years. And just the figure that Donald Trump is.”
Democratic Gov. Kate Brown isn’t on the ballot but she is a galvanizing force … for Republicans. Brown is about as unpopular among them as Trump is among Democrats. Her approval rating while in office hasn’t declined much but her disapproval rating has skyrocketed.
As of last month, Oregon had 2,924,292 registered voters. They included 1,043,175 Democrats, 938,643 voters not affiliated with any party, 750,718 Republicans and 130,668 Independent Party voters. The remaining voters belong to much-smaller political parties.
Horvick said party affiliation is the most-important indicator of how a person is likely to vote, usually outweighing age, gender or geography. Both major parties now consist of the most-partisan voters, as the ranks of the non-affiliated increase dramatically. That trend accelerated with so many Oregonians becoming automatically registered to vote through the state’s “motor voter” system.
Non-affiliated voters often are portrayed as middle-of-the road, but Horvick called that an over-generalization.
“I think non-affiliated voters are a hodgepodge of voters from all over the spectrum and tend to be less committed to their beliefs because they tend to pay less attention to politics and policy and will change their positions more readily,” he said. “They could be conservative on one issue and liberal on another, and that could flip from day to day.”
Oregon’s south coast is turning deeper red, Horvick said, and Republicans could capture two legislative seats currently held by Democrats. Yet Biden also might perform better there than Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. Older, less-educated, blue-collar white voters are more comfortable with Biden.
Across the Cascades, highly educated voters in Bend, many of them transplants from California, are turning the community into a blue island, where Republican Rep. Cheri Helt and Sen. Tim Knopp face tough Democratic challengers.
Meanwhile, Washington County in the metro area has gone from extremely competitive between parties to overwhelmingly voting Democratic in statewide and national elections.
“If you look at Washington County demographically, it’s relatively young, it’s highly educated and it’s diverse. Those are groups that are becoming more Democratic, and it’s a huge population center,” Horvick said.
“So you take Multnomah County, which has been strongly Democratic for a long time and even becoming more so. You build on Washington County, and now if you add Central Oregon as well, you see just how difficult it is for Republicans to win statewide.”
To regain clout in Oregon, the Republican Party must make significant inroads in such places as Washington County. Horvick suggested that could require taking a different approach than the national party, which is dominated by rural states whose interests don’t necessarily align with Oregon’s.
“I think the best thing, frankly, for the Republican party in Oregon is for Biden to win — that there will be some sort of snapback, as there usually is,” Horvick said. “The ‘out’ party tends to do well in the mid-term elections.”
Statewide races have drawn little attention this year. Horvick said the GOP’s best chance for victory might be in the race for state treasurer, where Democratic incumbent Tobias Read faces Republican Jeff Gudman in a rematch from 2016, with a couple of third-party candidates also running.
Horvick said he’s seen little in the polling data to suggest that the Republican legislative walkouts will affect most voters. “If you’re a Republican voter in Burns, you’re not upset with the walkout. You’re giving them a high-five,” Horvick said.
One exception could be the Bend-area races. Helt and Knopp were tarred by their Republican colleagues’ walkout although neither participated, instead continuing to work at the State Capitol.
“State legislators aren’t well-known. For most voters, they’re going to get their ballot and see a D or R by the names and vote accordingly,” Horvick said.
Key issues: Horvick said the social protests and police response are no longer the No. 1 issue across the state. COVID-19 has returned as the dominant topic here and nationally. The economy is important but not as much as he would have expected.
Homelessness remains a key issue in the metro area, coastal communities, Bend and Medford. Concern about crime and public safety has increased. Meanwhile, surveys show transportation no longer is a big issue for metro-area voters.
DeFazio’s toughest challenge: The 4th Congressional District race between Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio of Springfield and Republican Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg has attracted national attention and loads of money. The authoritative Cook Political Report recently downgraded the predicted winner from “Likely Democrat” to “Lean Democrat.”
Although DeFazio remains favored, the potential for a GOP victory is a combination of Republicans fielding a better candidate — Skarlatos gained fame for helping avert a terrorist attack on a French train — and Democrats having a smaller plurality in the district.
DeFazio is among the most senior members of the House, first elected in 1986, and chairs the powerful House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. During a Zoom webinar hosted by Oregon Business & Industry this week, DeFazio said that Biden, if elected as president, wants to begin on infrastructure-funding legislation in February.