November 15th, 2010 5:33 pm | by NIGEL JAQUISS News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, Politics

Tom Hughes Establishes A Road Map for Future Candidates

Photo collage of Tom Hughes on somebody else's body

There are at least a couple of interesting lessons in Tom Hughes' narrow victory over Bob Stacey in the Metro Council president's race.

That victory, finally decided on Nov. 11, ended up with a difference of less than one percentage point—about 1,000 votes out of nearly 400,000 counted. As noted earlier, the unusually high number of write-in votes far exceeded Hughes' margin of victory.

Here are two notable take-aways from the race:

1. It's possible to beat a Portland liberal in a larger race even while losing Multnomah County.

Although Hughes, the former two-term mayor of Hillsboro, is a Democrat and longtime member of the teachers' union, he was clearly the more conservative candidate.

Stacey is the walking epitome of Portland's planning and land-use contingent. His resume included stints working for U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Portland); TriMet; the city of Portland's Planning Bureau; and 1000 Friends of Oregon.

So what made the difference? There are far more registered voters in Clackamas and Washington counties (about 481,000 as of the most recent numbers in September) than in Multnomah County (411,000). And Hughes, as a favorite son in Washington County, won his home county by a slightly larger margin than Stacey won in Multnomah County. Hughes also took Clackamas County by about seven percentage points.

Meantime, GOP gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley won his home county, Clackamas, by nine percentage points but lost in Washington County by a percentage point and-a-half. The takeaway: if the GOP wants to win a statewide race, it needs to find a Hughes-like character—ideally also from Washington County—who can neutralize the Multnomah County vote.

2. Hughes, like Gov.-elect John Kitzhaber, showed you can spend a lot less than your opponent and still win.

Combining their money totals in the May primary and the general elections, Stacey outspent Hughes $727,000 to $483,000.

If you add in the $426,000 Metro councilor Rex Burkholder spent on a third-place finish in the primary, Hughes really got outgunned. And unlike Kitzhaber, Hughes started late, several months after his opponents, and was virtually unknown to voters when he entered the race.

In March, Hughes' polling showed him third in a three-way race and showed that by far the greatest percentage of voters thought Metro's major responsbilities were "controlling urban sprawl" and "transportation issues/planning." Both of those topics are Stacey and Burkholder's forte.

And only 1 percent of voters thought "creating/protecting jobs in the region" which is what Hughes ran on, was a major responsibility. Even after Hughes won the most votes in the May primary, his polling in mid-August showed him trailing Stacey by six percentage points, although one-third of voters remained undecided. So how did Hughes eke out the victory, overcoming three waves of mail from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters that tried to paint him as the devil?

"I think among other things this is the kind of office that is obscure enough that people don't pay much attention to negative advertising and at the end of the day go to [the] Voters' Pamphlet to see who the candidates really are," Hughes says.

He also gives a lot of credit to his campaign manager, Stacey Dycus.

"She took a candidate who got in the race late, had substantially less money and was more obscure," Hughes says. "She managed with scarce resources to run a really effective campaign."

Hughes is now busy meeting with his future colleagues on the seven-member Metro council and making the rounds with the players who will battle over final designations of urban and rural reserves and the location of the Urban Growth Boundary.

"It's going to be really important to maintain a balance," Hughes says.
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