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November 5th, 2008 HENRY STERN | News Stories
 

Obama Drama

Deciding a president, Oregon’s next senator and a dozen state ballot measures.

     
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Obamania: Supporters of the next president of the United States cheer for their candidate Tuesday night at Chicago’s Grant Park.
IMAGE: AP Photo/M. Spencer Green

America elected a black man as president on Tuesday.

Rivaled only by “Man Lands on the Moon,” the underlying news in the sentence above is among the most monumental in this nation’s history.

Yes, Barack Obama is human and a politician, two traits that ensure he will fail on some thing or things at some point in the next four years.

But after eight years of the most abject leadership in the country’s history, and on top of our centuries-old legacy of racial prejudice, Obama’s victory Tuesday is astounding.

His win blended his abilities to inspire and to tap voters’ hunger for change with a huge cash advantage over John McCain and the electorate’s aversion to anything Republican. The results of that combination became evident as polls closed in East Coast and Midwest states.

The first signs Obama might be en route to a historic victory came from results in Pennsylvania. McCain had hoped to capture that state’s 21 electoral votes, but those hopes died when television networks called the state for Obama minutes after the polls closed.

Shortly after, network projections gave the always hotly contested state of Ohio—where Democrat John Kerry fell short in 2004—and its 20 electoral votes to Obama. That made a win virtually impossible for McCain.

“I think it’s mathematically done,” said Libertarian-turned-Republican Tom Cox at a moribund GOP get-together at the Benson. “It’s over.”

And by the time Obama won Oregon’s seven electoral votes, along with California’s 55 and Washington’s 11 at 8 pm, the deal was done.

“I think it was Oregon that put Barack Obama over the top,” U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) told thousands of giddy Democrats gathered at the Oregon Convention Center after CNN projected Obama as the next president. “We want you to savor this moment.”

Of course, the presidential race wasn’t all that was on the ballot.

STATEWIDE RACES

In one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races, the first returns after 8 pm showed U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) trailing Democrat Jeff Merkley.

The speaker of the Oregon House, Merkley was aiming to be the first challenger to beat an incumbent Oregon senator since Republican Bob Packwood unseated Democrat Wayne Morse in 1968.

At press time, initial results also showed Democrats winning the three statewide offices on the ballot.

Democrat John Kroger, a Lewis & Clark law professor and political newcomer, defeated three third-party opponents for attorney general.

Democrat Kate Brown, a longtime state senator from Portland, led Republican Rick Dancer—a former Eugene TV journalist—for secretary of state. And Democrat Ben Westlund, an ex-bull-semen salesman from Central Oregon turned state senator, led Republican Allen Alley, a first-time candidate who was CEO of Pixelworks, for state treasurer.

STATEWIDE MEASURES

Oregon voters also had to decide on a dozen measures dealing with crime, schools, taxes and the election rules themselves.

The first returns showed Bill Sizemore losing all five of his initiatives, a collection of proposals that generated intense opposition including millions from Defend Oregon, a coalition that formed to fight this year’s round of measures from Sizemore. Among them:

Measure 58, which would limit native-language instruction for public school children who don’t speak English.

Measure 59, Sizemore’s latest version of a previously defeated measure to provide Oregonians with a total deduction of their federal taxes on their state taxes.

Measure 60, which would ban the use of seniority to determine pay raises and layoffs, if needed, for public school teachers.

Measure 63, which would waive the need for permits on property improvements totaling less than $35,000.

Measure 64, Sizemore’s most recent iteration of his twice-defeated proposal to cripple public employee unions’ ability to deduct union dues from paychecks.

Meanwhile, preliminary returns at 8:30 pm showed Kevin Mannix’s Measure 61, which would sentence first-time offenders to mandatory minimums, losing. And legislatively referred Measure 57, an alternative to Measure 61 that targets repeat offenders and also mandates addiction treatment for felons, was winning in those first returns

Another hotly contested initiative, Measure 65, which would abolish party primaries and put all candidates in Oregon partisan races together, was losing.

LOCAL ELECTIONS

In the one race for a seat on the Portland City Council, Amanda Fritz beat Charles Lewis in her bid to be the first woman on the five-person Council since Vera Katz retired as mayor four years ago.

In the contests for two seats on the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, early returns had Mike Delman trailing Judy Shiprack, whose campaign was dogged by WW’s report of her delinquency in payment of $1.8 million on a project with the Portland Development Commission (see “Shipracked” WW, Sept. 17, 2008); and in east county, Carla Piluso narrowly leading Diane McKeel.

Reporters Nigel Jaquiss and James Pitkin contributed to this report.

Election Night coverage and the latest results.

 
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