Mayor Stan Pulliam’s Bid for the Hearts and Minds of Trump Voters Has Hit a Few Snags

Before last week, says DHM Research pollster John Horvick, “I would’ve put him as my favorite. A Trump endorsement would make him an even stronger favorite.”

A little over a year ago, WW asked Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam whether he believed President Donald Trump bore responsibility for violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. “I absolutely do,” Pulliam said then. “I think in his speech he definitely helped incite violence.”

Those comments are a sharp contrast from the campaign Pulliam has waged to become the Republican nominee for Oregon governor.

In the last month alone, he escalated his claims around the conspiracy theory that Trump won the 2020 presidential election. “It was absolutely fraudulent,” he said at a candidate forum—and shared video of that claim Jan. 28. “I am the ONLY candidate who has the courage to say what needs to be said about the integrity of our elections,” he added Feb. 1.

Pulliam seems to be wagering that he can land a Trump endorsement, or at least the backing of the former president’s most ardent supporters.

And by most measures, Pulliam’s Trump-loving ways, along with aggressive criticism of Gov. Kate Brown’s pandemic and criminal justice record, have worked. Pulliam recently won a straw poll of Republicans; finished second in a poll conducted for his rival, Dr. Bud Pierce; and has raised nearly a million dollars.

Before last week, says DHM Research pollster John Horvick, “I would’ve put him as my favorite. A Trump endorsement would make him an even stronger favorite.”

But in the last week, Pulliam hit two related snags that threaten to undo all of that work.

First, he acknowledged to WW that he and his wife, MacKensey, were once part of a Portland swingers’ club. Four days later, he drew a notable opponent who will question Pulliam’s record. Other conservatives are also now questioning whether he can be the party’s standard-bearer.

Conservative Bill Sizemore entered the race Monday, citing his belief he could beat Pulliam after last week’s WW story in which Pulliam acknowledged he and his wife “explored mutual relationships with other couples.” Sizemore also leveled charges that Pulliam is being less than sincere in his Trumpism.

“Stan was hoping that Trump will come to Oregon and endorse him if he trumpets the Trump message loud enough,” says Sizemore. He also criticized Pulliam’s remarks a year ago blaming Trump for violence as a sign Pulliam’s MAGA devotion is inauthentic. “I don’t know what he’s going to do now,” says Sizemore, “but that turnaround is striking.”

Pulliam says his position hasn’t changed. “It seems when the president put the truth to the facts about election fraud, he inadvertently emboldened a small portion of the crowd headed towards the Capitol on Jan. 6,” Pulliam tells WW now. “Your newspaper quoted me as saying such, and it was no different from the opinions of pundits like Tucker Carlson and Ben Shapiro. If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up with a governor who only says things they know they can defend a decade later. I’d rather be authentic and candid.”

Many view Trump as potentially the decisive force in the Republican primary. Multiple polls have shown the loyalty the former president commands among Oregon Republicans.

But one example: The Pulliam campaign shared a memo from pollster J.L. Wilson at Nelson Research, which reported that a poll of 400 likely Republican voters said 54% were “less likely to vote” for a candidate that has disavowed President Trump; 13% were more likely—a 41 point margin.

It’s not clear that Trump will endorse, particularly after last week’s revelations, in part because Trumpists want to endorse a winner. And there are reasons for Trump not to weigh in: Pulliam’s opponents aren’t aggressively criticizing Trump; they’re just not talking about him.

“I think a few Republican candidates will certainly take a shot at getting Trump’s endorsement via their second cousin’s Uber driver who once delivered an order to Trump Tower, but that almost never pans out,” says GOP consultant Reagan Knopp, who is not currently working for any of the campaigns. “Trump hasn’t endorsed in any Republican primaries in Oregon and I haven’t seen any evidence he will start now.”

Pulliam’s leading opponents to date haven’t seized on his troubles. Former Oregon House Minority Leader Christine Drazan (R-Canby) declined to comment last week. Pierce expressed his support for Pulliam: “I have met both Stan Pulliam and his wife during this campaign. They are nice people, and I wish them the best in all aspects of their lives.”

The consultant and conservative writer Bridget Barton raised an eyebrow. “I’m not running for governor to weigh in on someone’s personal life, but Oregonians are tired of career politicians who think they can get away with not being honest about who they really are,” she said in a statement. “All Oregonians, not just Republicans, are frustrated with being lied to over and over again by the people elected to serve them.”

Plenty of Republicans remain skeptical that the past week will impact Pulliam. And some key Republican constituencies may still be figuring out if Pulliam’s past swinging matters.

The conservative group Oregon Right to Life did not respond to repeated requests for comment about how such revelations might affect its endorsement process. (The group’s former political director, David Kilada, is Pulliam’s campaign consultant.) Executives at the Leathers Enterprises, a fuel company that appears to have indirectly given Pulliam his largest donation—$145,000—through the Heart of Main Street Political Action Committee, have not responded to inquiries from WW.

Perhaps sex scandals have lost their hold, even on Republican voters.

“I look at the last president that we had in office who had extramarital whatevers,” says former state Rep. Julie Parrish (R-West Linn), who has not endorsed or consulted in the race.

Republican voters, she argues, “don’t care as much [about a sex scandal] as why are we living under these mandates or why does every state agency have some sort of issues.”

But over 60% of Oregon Republican voters identify as evangelical, according to a November poll by Fallon Research. And according to a DHM Research poll from 2019, just 6% of Republicans approve of non-monogamous or polyamorous relationships.

“It does matter in the Republican primary, and it’s going to be very difficult to overcome,” says former state Rep. Jeff Kropf (R-Halsey), who self-identifies as a Christian and conservative Republican, in that order. “There’s a huge, huge part of the Oregon Republican base that is very, very pro-Trump. With Stan for all intents and purposes neutered, where do those voters go?”