Gary Johnson Oregon: Just One Reason Why Oregon Could Become a Swing State

Despite Portlandia's depiction of my hometown of Portland, OR as a strong Democratic stronghold, the state as a whole is far from a certain for Obama. While every electoral maps projects that Obama will carry the state again, as he did in 2008, the current polling numbers are surprisingly close: polls by both The Oregonian and Real Clear Politics indicate a slim six-point lead. That's less than half of Obama's 16.4% margin of victory in 2008.

This year, Obama's six-point advantage could vanish if enough Democrats and independents — which Oregon has aplenty — support the popular Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson. This wouldn't be unprecedented: it's arguable that Al Gore, who carried Oregon by less than a percentage point over George W. Bush, would have won by a significantly larger margin had Green Party nominee Ralph Nader not won 5% of the vote.

Adding to the uncertainty around Oregon is the fact that the southern and eastern parts of the state are solidly Republican. The high population in solidly blue Portland, which accounts for over 30 percent of the state's population, and the upper western corner, which is similarly staunch in its support for the Democratic Party, are almost single handedly responsible for Oregon's Democratic vote in presidential politics.

Finally, Oregon's higher-than-nationwide unemployment rate (8.7% in September) may be contributing to voters' discontent with Obama. After all, the general consensus about incumbent elections is that they serve as referendums on the sitting president's policies — and the economy has dominated Obama's administration from its first day. 

All these things led to GOP strategist Karl Rove's optimistic comments on Oregon at the Republican National Convention: “You also have something going out there, sort of this libertarian, Western, iconoclastic I’m-not-going-to-be-put-in-a-box. But something’s going on in Oregon. They’ve got a 30-30 statehouse. And Republicans came within 15,000 votes of winning the governorship and yet it’s the most unchurched state in the union. So it’s a weird conglomeration. Oregon might be next.”

Perhaps it is lucky for Obama that the West Coast has historically been ignored in presidential elections (after all, by midnight on the West Coast, it's already 3 a.m. on the East Coast and the winner has likely already been determined). If Romney had contested Oregon, it's not impossible to imagine that Oregon would move from a "strong to likely" Obama win to "contested" state status. And in the years to come, Oregon may well become a tossup if current trends continue.