Oregon Non-Spoiler Electoral Opportunities

by Alan F. Zundel

For independent and alternative party candidates who would challenge the policy agendas of the major parties, running for office is a good way to promote different ideas. But running can also raise the prospect of acting as a “spoiler” by increasing the chances that a “greater evil” major party candidate will defeat a “lessor evil” major party candidate. This prospect dampens the willingness of voters to vote for alternative candidates, and can inhibit the decision of potential candidates to run. As a result, the political debate is narrowed and the choices available to voters are reduced.

However, there are many electoral opportunities to run with no or a very low chance of acting as a spoiler. And I am not talking about low-level nonpartisan offices, but partisan offices in the U.S. Congress or the state legislature.

Some seats have an uncontested candidate, usually an incumbent, and so it would be impossible for another candidate to act as a spoiler by challenging them. Other seats are regularly won with very high margins and so gaining votes that would have gone to the leading candidate will not be enough to cause some other “greater evil” candidate to win.

For example, in the 2016 election for the Oregon House of Representatives, eleven of the sixty seats were uncontested. In the Oregon Senate, five of the sixteen seats up for election were uncontested. And in many more, the leading candidate won by over a two-to-one ratio over the second-place candidate.

Here are some of the seats to watch for the 2018 election, which judging by recent history may present good opportunities for non-major party candidates to run without being accused of being a spoiler.

U.S. Congressional Seats

In the 3rd Congressional District in the eastern Portland area, Democrat Earl Blumenauer won with 71.8% of the vote in 2016 and 72.3% in 2014, making this seat relatively safe for alternative candidates to run without the concern of being a spoiler.

In the 2nd U.S. Congressional District covering the eastern half of the state, Republican Greg Walden won with 71.7% of the vote in 2016 and 70.4% of the vote in 2014. However, his role in the effort to replace the Affordable Care Act may have given the Democrats an opportunity to make gains, so this may not be an ideal seat for alternative candidates trying to avoid acting as spoilers.

Oregon Senate Seats

In the Oregon state Senate, fifteen seats should be up for election in 2018. (Each of the thirty Senate seats are up for election every four years, half of them each election year.) Potential candidates should keep an eye on whether candidates for both major parties file for their districts.

In Oregon Senate District 7 in the northwest Eugene area, Democrat Chris Edwards was uncontested in 2014. However, Democrat James Manning replaced Edwards by appointment and will likely attract a Republican challenger in 2018.

Democrats Richard Devlin in District 19 (south of Portland) and Rod Monroe in District 24 (eastern Portland) were also uncontested in 2014. As incumbents they might again scare off Republican challengers; however, in 2010 their share of the votes were each below 55% when they were challenged.

Three Oregon Senate candidates won with high margins in 2014, all of them against minor parties challengers with no other major party candidate in the race, but only two of these seats will be up for election in 2018. In District 10 (south and west Salem), Republican Jackie Winters won with 87% of the vote and in District 16 (northwest of Portland), Democrat Betsy Johnson won with 70%. Against major party challengers in 2010, they received 68.3%, and 54.4% respectively. Winters’ seat would seem to be safe for challengers who wish to avoid being spoilers.

Oregon House Seats

Turning to the Oregon House of Representatives, in which all sixty seats are up for election every two years, the following seats were uncontested in 2016:

  • District 2 (Roseburg), Republican Dallas Heard. In 2014 Heard won about 63% to 31% against a Democratic challenger, nearly twice as many votes. (All the percentages below are rounded to the nearest whole number.)
  • District 4 (Grants Pass), Republican Duane Stark. In 2014 Stark won against a Democrat about 68.5% to 31%, over twice as many votes.
  • District 6 (Medford), Republican Sal Esquivel, who was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 27 (Beaverton), Democrat Sheri Malstrom. In 2014 Democrat Tobias Read won against a Republican challenger with nearly 81% of the vote.
  • District 43 (Portland), Democrat Tawna Sanchez. In 2014 Democrat Frederick Lew ran uncontested.
  • District 45 (Portland), Democrat Barbara Smith Warner. Smith Warner was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 46 (Portland), Democrat Alissa Keny-Guyer. She was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 49 (Troutdale), Democrat Chris Gorsek. This seat was more competitive in 2014, with Gorsek winning about 60% to 39% against a Republican.
  • District 57 (north central Oregon), Republican Greg Smith. He was also uncontested in 2014.
  • District 58 (Cove), Republican Greg Barreto. In 2014 Barreto won with about 73% to his Democratic challenger’s 25%, nearly three times as many votes.
  • District 60 (Ontario), Republican Cliff Bentz. In 2014 Bentz won with over four times as many votes as his Democratic rival, about 82% to 19%.

All of the above seats, with the possible exception of District 49, would be unlikely to be affected by any spoiler dynamic. The following seats had candidates who won with high margins in 2016, and were either uncontested or also had decisive winners in 2014:

  • District 3 (Grants Pass), Republican Carl Wilson, about 73% to 27% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 64/26% against a Democrat.
  • District 7 (Roseburg), Republican Cedric Hayden, 64/24% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 78% of the vote against a Libertarian candidate.
  • District 8 (Eugene), Democrat Paul Holvey, 69/27% against a Republican. In 2014 he ran uncontested.
  • District 13 (Eugene), Democrat Nancy Nathanson, 66/30% against a Republican. In 2014 she won 69/30% against a Republican.
  • District 15 (Albany), Republican Andy Olson, 83/17% against a Progressive Party candidate. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 16 (Corvallis), Democrat Dan Rayfield, 58/21% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 72/27% against a Republican.
  • District 17 (Scio), Republican Sherri Sprenger, 79/21% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 she won 74/26% against a Democrat.
  • District 18 (Silverton), Republican Vic Gilliam, 66/32% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 66/34% against a Democrat. In early 2017 Republic Rick Lewis replaced Gilliam by appointment, and so may face a more competitive race.
  • District 31 (Clatskanie), Democrat Brad Witt, 81/19% against a Libertarian. However, in 2014 he won only 54/40% against a Republican.
  • District 33 (Portland), Democrat Mitch Greenlick, 70/30% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 82% of the vote against a Libertarian.
  • District 36 (Portland), Democrat Jennifer Williamson, 89/11% against a Libertarian. In 2014 she won 85% of the vote against a Libertarian.
  • District 38 (Lake Oswego), Democrat Ann Lininger, 70/30% against a Republican. In 2014 she was uncontested.
  • District 39 (Oregon City), Republican Bill Kennemer, 65/32%. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 41 (Milwaukie), Democrat Karin Power, 72/28% against a Republican. In 2014 Democrat Kathleen Taylor won 70/29% against a Republican.
  • District 42 (Portland), Democrat Rob Nosse, 89/6% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 he won with 91% against a Libertarian.
  • District 44 (Portland), Democrat Tina Kotech, 81/19% against a Pacific Green Party candidate. In 2014 she won 85/14% against a Republican.
  • District 47 (Portland), Democrat Diego Hernandez, 67/33% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 Democrat Jessica Vega Pederson ran uncontested.
  • District 48 (Happy Valley), Democrat Jeff Reardon, 63/28% against a Republican. In 2014 he won 67/32% against a Republican.
  • District 53 (Sunriver), Republican Gene Whisnant, 68/32% against a Democrat. In 2014 he was uncontested.
  • District 55 (Powell Butte), Republican Mike McLane, 76/24% against a Democrat. In 2014 he won 72/22% against a Democrat.
  • District 56 (Klamath Falls), Republican E. Werner Reschke, 82/18% against an Independent Party candidate. In 2014 Republican Gail Whitsett ran uncontested.
  • District 59 (The Dalles), Republican John Huffman, 71/29% against a Democrat. He ran uncontested in 2014.

Altogether over half of the Oregon House seats could be safe for independent and alternative party candidates to run in without concern of being a spoiler.

Potential candidates interested in running should keep an eye on who files for the spring 2018 primaries to run for office in their districts. The filing period runs from September 7, 2017 through March 6, 2018. Filings are listed on the website of the Oregon Secretary of State: https://secure.sos.state.or.us/orestar/CFSearchPage.do

10 thoughts on “Oregon Non-Spoiler Electoral Opportunities

  1. There is no such thing as a spoiler in a democracy. I’m really surprised you wrote such a thing. The reason we have the results you noted above is a direct result of the two party domination, which is a direct result of the antiquated winner take all system.

    Both Dems and Reps know how to fix the system but have no interest. Most seats go uncontested and the incumbents win and win and win again.

    We need to change the system, not offer token opposition in what you deem to be safe seats to not spoil a rotten system.

    1. I put the term “spoiler” in scare quotes in its first appearance in the article to indicate my own reservations with it, but the dynamic the term refers to is real. Working to change the system and running candidates free of the spoiler accusation are not mutually exclusive. The main difference in the strategies is that the former will likely take a long time while the latter is doable right now.

      1. Google Derrick Jensen Ping Pong Balls and you’ll find a reference to the book “The Culture of Make Believe – Page 332 – Google Books Result.” Click on that and it will take you to page 332 of his book. You can read that little bit but I recommend scrolling to the top of that section which starts at the bottom of Page 328.

        How do we change the framing conditions?

  2. “My Indian sister Vandana Shiva has stated, “There is only one path to survival and liberation for nature, women, and men, and that is the ecological path to harmony, sustainability, and diversity.” If we all agree that the impact of science, technology, politics, and economics is inherently exploitative, there must be at last a real political, Green, feminist, pacifist, socially just alternative. Green politics must put itself to the vote in the U.S. and become a political factor in all elections at all levels with credible, competent candidates.

    Nearly a billion people on Earth live in dire poverty. Overconsumption threatens our planet. Massive debts are crippling the ability of Third World countries to provide even the most basic needs for their populations. Indigenous peoples and their environments are threatened. Two million dollars are spent each minute on the insane arms race, supposedly to keep the world safe. The consumer-oriented populations of the First World use grossly disproportionate amounts of the world’s energy and resources, and burn most of the fossil fuels, thus contributing dramatically to the greenhouse effect.

    There can be only one answer concerning when to start Green politics at every electoral level in the United States: right now. Because of the need for a low-energy future; because the Earth’s remaining rainforests are being destroyed to meet the interest on debt repayments from poor to rich countries; because over 20 million Americans do not have enough to eat; because we must divert funds from military spending in order to solve terminal environmental, economic, and social problems; because human rights and civil liberties cannot be matters of political expediency; because we must replace consumption with conservation as society’s driving force; because we can no longer ignore or neglect the years of warning signals telling us that we have come face to face with the natural limits of what we can take from the Earth; because the Earth has no emergency exit; because we can no longer sit by and watch Western governments be driven by endless expansion of consumption and by the futile goal of economic growth at any cost for these and countless other desperate reasons, we must present Green alternatives in the U.S.A.”

    ~ Petra Kelly, German Green Party Founder, “Thinking Green”

  3. Linear thinking that asserts the system will change ‘right now’ in response to minor party candidates running spoiler-free or symbolic campaigns has its purpose. Notwithstanding it is unlikely such campaigns will lead to even the goal of 5% registration and major party status in Oregon. Insinuating that running to win will ‘likely take a long time’ to change the system is to inordinately discount the potential of that strategy, and furthermore it runs the risk of discouraging conversions to–and demoralizing the rank and file of–independent parties including the Greens; and in so discounting renders even less likely the unexpected minor party win. A significant number of Bernie supporters converted to activist Green Party members with sincere hopes in the potential of the Stein/Baraka campaign. Some felt betrayed by strategic thinkers who sought merely to get 5% of the vote and the advantages that outcome would have conferred. Thinking about what motivates the unprecedented large numbers of women who have formalized their intent to seek office in the upcoming state and federal elections, and the motivations of their supporters, their overwhelming intent is to win against the ‘dominant machine’ rather than to just make a good enough showing. As an example of symbolic or spoiler-free campaigns by Greens in Oregon, consider those that opposed DeFazio and Kotek as illustrations of futility, if not absurdity, of being Green, even if the strategic goals to increase overall consciousness in the electorate, and collaterally numbers of registered Greens were realized. There has been no better time to take on the role of the spoiler and seek the transformational power of the David versus Goliath mythos.

    1. The assertion was not that running to win will likely take a long time, but that changing the system (for example, to ranked choice voting) will likely take a long time. I did not say people should not run “spoiler” campaigns, I noted that the prospect of a spoiler campaign may deter some potential candidates from running but they may be able to avoid that.

      1. thanks for clarification. thanks for publishing the research results. would you provide a concise summary of your methods and data sources?

        1. The results of the last few elections can be found on the Oregon Secretary of State’s website: http://sos.oregon.gov/elections/Pages/electionhistory-stats.aspx
          (Results can also be found on various news sources online, which is handy for percentages.)
          As for method, candidates running without opposition were obvious. In the elections with two or more candidates, I took the difference between the votes cast for the winner (either number or percentage) and those cast for the competitor with the next highest total and cut the difference in half. If half was more than the total of the competitor, it would be hard to help the competitor win by taking votes from the winner. The vote-taker would win before the competitor would.

          1. ok, thanks. SOS.oregon.gov provides results as pdf files on the website you referenced. Often pdf presents difficulties for the coders charged with getting the numbers into a database for further analysis. Did you use automated data ingestion or manually do it? Does SOS offer this data in a more interoperable format, e.g. the international standard, ISO/IEC 29500 for xlsx spreadsheets, or any other industry standard format?

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