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Government and Politics
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

Oregon Gubernatorial Candidates Work To Reach Voters

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Democratic incumbent Kate Brown, left, and Republicans Allen Alley, center, and Bud Pierce, right, are the major-party candidates for Oregon governor.

The candidates for governor in Oregon have spent nearly $1.7 million dollars so far this year in their quest for office. So what has all that money bought them as the May 17 primary approaches?

Like most people I spoke with here in downtown Salem, Jesse Weiss is following the presidential election closely.

"I plan on voting for either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders,” Weiss said. “I just don't know which one I want."

But the Democrat freely admits she's out-of-the-loop when it comes to the race for Oregon Governor.

"I don't know who's running. I like…what's her name…Kate Brown?"

Well yes, the current governor of Oregon is Kate Brown. And yes, she's running. And so far she’s easily raised more money than the dozen other people running for governor.

The next voter I spoke with was Eric Fuller, who calls himself a moderate Republican. Like Weiss, Fuller said he's fairly up-to-speed on the presidential campaign. But, he said, "I have no idea right now who is actually running for what in the state of Oregon."

I told him the two leading Republican candidates for governor are Bud Pierce and Allen Alley. Fuller said he kind of thinks he's heard of Bud Pierce. As an experiment, I pulled out a sheet of paper with both Pierce and Alley's photo on it. I asked him if either of the people looked in any way familiar.

"I really want to say the guy on the top does,” Fuller said. “But I cannot place him."

"Okay, so the guy on the top is Bud Pierce,” I said. “And the guy on the bottom is Allen Alley."

"I kind of figured that was who it was but just was not sure,” Fuller said. “I have a lot of research to do, basically."

Experts say the fact that Fuller has even heard of Bud Pierce puts Pierce on the fast-track to ultimately getting Fuller's vote.

"Name recognition is really powerful because it is an indicator for us of candidate viability,” said Cindy Richards is associate professor of civic communication and media at Willamette University.

Richards pointed to a Vanderbilt University study that showed that for candidates, just getting their name in front of voters can yield huge dividends.

"Simply glimpsing a name can impact the way that people vote, especially in an election like this where there's relatively little known about either of the candidates,” Richards said.

Richards was speaking about the Republican gubernatorial primary, where neither Bud Pierce nor Allen Alley has ever held elected office. Alley is familiar to GOP donors, having twice run for statewide office and lost. Pierce, a long time cancer doctor, is largely self-funding his efforts.

Of course, having held elected office is no guarantee of success either. Someone who knows what it's like to try to win name recognition among voters isBill Bradbury, who served 14 years in the legislature and was elected twice as Oregon Secretary of State.

But when it came to running for governor in 2010, Bradbury said, "There was very much an element of introducing myself to voters."

Did it work? Bradbury was trounced in the Democratic primary by former Governor John Kitzhaber. So perhaps you can't blame him for this response when I asked him if he had any advice for this year's GOP hopefuls.

"I don't have a clue,” Bradbury said. “I really don't."

Finally, I found a Republican voter who was keenly interested in the gubernatorial primary. For Garth Brandaw, it's personal. When his father had cancer, Bud Pierce was his doctor. So Brandaw is a big supporter of Pierce, even donating to his campaign.

Still, Brandaw thinks neither Pierce nor Allen Alley has much of a chance of winning in November.

"I think it's kind of taken for granted,” Brandaw said. “I mean, Democrats have pretty much controlled the governor's office for quite a while."

That's true. The last time Oregon elected a Republican as governor was 1982.