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Westlund Ends Gubernatorial Campaign

One of the most promising independent candidates for governor in the country, Oregon State Senator Ben Westlund, has decided to end his campaign. He will, however, continue to serve as an independent in the State Senate without joining either party.

From the Seattle Times...

State Sen. Ben Westlund, an independent from Central Oregon, said today he has dropped out of the gubernatorial race, potentially shifting momentum in the race toward Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski.

At a hastily called news conference, Westlund told said he didn’t want to be a “spoiler” candidate — in other words, skimming off just enough votes from the Kulongoski camp to give Republican challenger Ron Saxton the victory in what’s expected to be one of the nation’s most closely fought gubernatorial contests.

“We have rekindled Oregon’s political center. We have shown tens of thousands of Oregonians that they may once again take the helm of their own ship of state,” Westlund said.

Westlund said he would not rejoin either party, but that he would make a gubernatorial endorsement at a later date.

A cancer survivor, Westlund said his health was good, and not a factor in his decision, which he arrived at several days ago after conversations with family members. He denied getting any pressure from the Kulongoski camp to drop out of the race.

A political fixture in Central Oregon, Westlund dropped out of the Republican Party with great fanfare earlier this year, and announced that he’d make a run for the governor’s seat.

As an independent, he had to collect 18,368 signatures from voters who had not cast a ballot for partisan races in the May primary election. Early checks of the signatures from his home county of Deschutes suggested that he would easily make the ballot, and Westlund himself said today he was confident that he would have had enough signatures to make the ballot.

Polls showed Westlund pulling between 5 and 14 percent, but his statewide name recognition was stubbornly low, even after months on the campaign trail. And general political wisdom held that he would attract more potential Kulongoski voters, especially after he staked out high-profile, left-leaning stands on a sales tax, universal health care, civil unions and land-use planning.

“I don’t think that Ben was in the race to get one candidate or the other elected,” said Rebekah Kassell, the communications director for Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s largest gay rights group, which has endorsed Kulongoski.

“I suspect that they knew that it would be a very difficult race, and that if there was no opportunity to come out on top, as someone who cares about the state, I am sure he would want to make sure that the candidate who best serves the state could get elected,” she said.

Kulongoski’s camp put out a statement immediately after Westlund’s news conference, and the governor said he “appreciated on a personal level that this decision was a difficult one to make. I am confident that Bend made the decision based on how he can best contribute in shaping Oregon’s future.”

Saxton’s campaign did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Though he is personally wealthy after a lucrative career as a bull-semen salesman, the plainspoken Westlund could also have run into trouble competing with fund-raising by Kulongoski and Saxton, both of whom are expected to raise upwards of $5 million. In his last statement filed with the Oregon Secretary of State’s office, Westlund reported having just under $300,000 on hand.

“You would want to have the funds to mount a credible campaign, and without a party behind you, that is definitely a barrier,” said Westlund’s campaign manager, Stacey Dycus.

Westlund, who turns 57 in September, has been in the Legislature for a decade. He was elected to the House in 1996 and served four terms, before being appointed to a vacant Senate seat in August 2003. His Senate term ends in January 2009.

Westlund’s departure doesn’t mean that the Oregon governor’s race is free of potential spoiler candidates. Constitution Party candidate Mary Starrett, a strong anti-abortion advocate, could attract some Republican voters, while some Democrats may lean toward Green Party candidate Joe Keating. Libertarian Richard Morley is also in the race.

Mike Riley, a Portland pollster, said that Westlund would have had an uphill battle in the gubernatorial race.

“The segment he commands is so narrow, it is tough to build a constituency,” Riley said. “Pundits said he drew more from Democrats than Republicans, but I think he drew some of each — his geographic pull was probably not insignificant.”

3 Responses to “Westlund Ends Gubernatorial Campaign”

  1. citizens for a better veterans home Says:



    Citizens For A Better Veterans Home (founded in Barstow, California in May 1998) traveled all the way from the Mexican Border (San Diego County’s San Ysidro communtiy) to the (Washington, Oregon, Idaho) Tri-State area. We were physically in North Central Oregon when Big Ben bowed out.

    While we appreciate Westlund wanting to be a contender, we wish nothing but ‘Maalox Moments’ to both of his major party thuggy appoinents.

    Back to Idaho and Independent/Moderate Party/Natural Law Party/United Party maverick Andrew Hedden-Nicely Congress hopeful in the Bosie area!

  2. undercover_anarchist Says:

    I’m glad I didn’t send him $20.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    This is very disappointing. Westlund didn’t seem to really give it the ol’ college try. I wish he would have waited for a debate (should he have been allowed in).

    At least he’s remaining an indy. I hope he’ll form a political party. There seems to be quite a bit of discontent in Oregon that could be succesfully tapped into.

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