Sad Dog, Bags of Drugs, Train Wreck Win Our Campaign Mailer Awards

Candidates still rely on dead-tree flyers to win your vote. We wish them luck.

A mailer supporting district attorney Mike Schmidt, paid for by the Working Families Party.

It’s springtime in an election year in Oregon, and that means political mailers are flying like pollen in the Springwater Corridor.

Both are a product of trees. And for some voters, the glossy pieces of clip-art-filled junk mail may be more irritating than this year’s blizzard of airborne allergens.

And sadly, a lot of Douglas firs may be dying in vain. Mailers increase name recognition, according to a 2014 article in Political Research Quarterly, and they increase one’s intent to vote. But they don’t seem to change hearts and minds.

“Although we find suggestive evidence that the mailers affected voter evaluations of the candidates as intended, for the most part, these effects fall short of conventional levels of statistical significance,” the article concluded.

Put another way: That six-page, 3,400-word tome from state treasurer candidate Jeff Gudman laying out what he’d do about everything from property tax rebalancing to investment council transparency isn’t likely to boost his chances more than a postcard with his name on it.

Gudman acknowledges taking a risk. “I know this isn’t the typical layout of a piece of campaign literature,” he says. “You’re probably expecting a 6-by-11-inch glossy handout that includes name, campaign logo, and a few noncontroversial bullet points.”

Yep, we were, and that might have done the job.

The mailers seem nastier than usual this year, and it may not be our imagination. We have the most contentious race for Multnomah County district attorney in decades and by far the most expensive. Campaign contributions in the race (now totaling more than $2 million) are unlimited because prosecutors are state employees.

The county commissioner races are ugly, too. Perversely, the county’s strict contribution limits might be making mailers worse because independent groups allowed to operate outside the rules rush in to fill the void.

The United for Portland PAC, whose top contributors are real estate interests, hammered District 2 candidate Shannon Singleton for her tenure at the Joint Office of Homeless Services. It illustrated the results of her service with a black-and-white photo of a veteran sleeping on the street and a single mother panhandling.

To lighten the mood, we offer our election-season awards for the standout mailers. It will be safe to open your mailbox again after election day, May 21. Allergy season is likely to go longer.

The flyers mentioned in this article, coded by letter.

A. Most Outrageous Claim

Because he didn’t vote against him in 2016, DA candidate Nathan Vasquez is in league with Donald Trump and his henchman Rudy Giuliani. That’s implied by a flyer from the Working Families Party of Oregon that features Vasquez, Trump and Giuliani in three lights of a traffic signal because “in 2016, Republican Nathan Vasquez didn’t vote to stop Donald Trump.” Get it? Nor did Vasquez vote in half the elections of the past 20 years, Working Families says. Definitely not cool for a guy who wants you to vote for him, but does it make him a MAGA puppet?

B. Worst Typo

In at least one of his mailers, Vasquez takes pains to look like a Democrat. The background is blue. Vasquez’s tie is blue. He brags about confronting the Proud Boys and says he’ll advocate for drug treatment over punishment. He lists endorsements from four labor unions and former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat. He spells Ted’s name correctly, but he bungles an easier one: retired Multnomah County Chief Criminal Judge Julie Frantz. His mailer calls her Julie Franzt.

C. Most Attacked Candidate

Read enough of your junk mail this month, and you’d think that former Multnomah County Commissioner Susheela Jayapal spent her days scoring fentanyl for addicts and her nights running over lost corgis. Her dark money detractors link her to bleak photos of used hypodermic needles, burning foil, caged retrievers, drooping tents, and—wait for it—an actual train wreck. “Susheela Jayapal was a failure on the county commission,” says Voters for Responsive Government. “Let’s not reward her with a seat in Congress.”

D. Worst Unforced Error

Since Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt was elected in 2020, it’s become common to see people smoking fentanyl on the streets of Portland. Emboldened by Measure 110, users felt free to light up just about anywhere. And things aren’t getting better. The Portland Police Bureau has already seized more fentanyl this year than it did in all of 2023. Schmidt reminds voters of that dope tsunami with a flyer featuring bags of blue pills. “Mike Schmidt knows fentanyl changed EVERYTHING,” it says. It’s hard to see how bombing mailboxes with bags of blues helps him, though.

E. Best Stunt Baby

Martin Van Buren became the eighth president of the United States in 1837, and history shows he did it by kissing a lot of babies, starting a tradition. Some politicians have balked. “I won’t wear a silly hat, or kiss a lady or a baby,” Richard Nixon told Life magazine, because it would make him “look like a jerk.” Vadim Mozyrsky, candidate for Multnomah County commissioner in District 1, by contrast, went all in. He has sent more than one mailer with a picture of his wife and new baby. Little Emilia is super cute, and she’s wearing a pink hat with ears that even Nixon couldn’t resist.

F. Best Collage by a Political Consultant’s Preschooler

No offense to kids and their art, but in another winner from the Working Families Party, we’re treated to a jumble of images, including “Machine Gun” Betsy Johnson holding a microphone, an NRA flag, an assault rifle, and (the best part) a big red foam finger that reads “#1 FAN,” in case it’s not clear that Johnson loves the National Rifle Association. What does this have to do with Mike Schmidt, the supposed beneficiary? “The NRA’s biggest cheerleader in Oregon is rooting for Mike Schmidt to lose,” the flyer says. It’s true that Johnson’s political action committee contributed to Vasquez, but that message is lost in so much laughable Photoshop work.

G. Most Manipulative

The Metro regional government wants voters to approve $380 million in new bonds to pay for new buildings and exhibits at the Oregon Zoo. Most of us love animals, but not everyone loves zoos. So, a group called Yes for the Oregon Zoo (funded by the Oregon Zoo Foundation, among others) is pulling out the stops. One of its mailers features the cutest-ever picture of a red panda with its little pink tongue sticking out. Try filling in the “no” oval on Measure 26-244 with that adorable face staring up at you from the dining room table.

H. Most Likely to Be Mistaken for Your Subscription to Vanity Fair

If good design won elections, Jessie Burke would be the front-runner for Multnomah County commissioner in District 2. Her flyer looks like a magazine. It has a title (Multnomah County Current), a date (Spring 2024) and a headline for the lead story (“Q&A with Multnomah County Commission candidate Jessie Burke”). The palette is cool gray, opulent olive, and soothing blue. If owning hotels and running for office doesn’t work out, we wonder if Burke would like to come help us launch a new publication called, say, West Hills Living.

I. Most Annoying Prop

How can we find 3rd Congressional District candidate Maxine Dexter’s stethoscope more offensive than a sad golden retriever (from another Jayapal hit piece)? Well, we’ve been doing this a long time, and we’re more jaded than most Blazers fans. Or maybe we’re just jealous of doctors who have other skills besides healing the sick, like playing the cello or doing a great job in the Oregon Legislature. But it bummed us out to see Dexter, clad in her scrubs, white coat and stethoscope. Most voters aren’t ill—but they may be sick of attempts like this to exploit their respect for physicians.

(Correction: An earlier version of this story said that Metro sent out the mailer with the red panda. It was the Oregon Zoo Foundation that sent it. Willamette Week regrets the error.)

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