State Sen. Ben Westlund, the Central Oregon legislator who left the Republican Party in February and flirted with an independent campaign for governor, will officially join the Democratic Party today.
The switch in allegiance was sparked by a realization that his politics mesh more with Democrats than Republicans, Westlund said in an interview Monday.
There has been speculation before that Westlund hopes to take on Senator Smith in 2008. This would be the perfect preliminary move to doing so. By switching Parties Westlund puts to rest any concerns that he's "not really a Democrat" and generates stronger support than he would otherwise get in the Democratic primary. We already know that Westlund has ambitions for higher office as is demonstrated by his brief bid for Governor in 2006 (he dropped out early while polling under 10%). Then there's the fact, as Russel Sadler pointed out in Blue Oregon, that Westlund would take Smith's fake image as a "maverick" and as a "moderate" and turn it upside down, because here we have someone unambiguously both a maverick and a moderate, who grew so disinfranchised with his Republican Party that he couldnt remain in the caucus any longer.
That leaves Ben Westlund who, I suspect, is about to do that most spectacular of political maneuvers -- a Wayne Morse double reverse with a twist.
Morse was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1944 and reelected in 1950. He had a falling out with Republicans over foreign policy and McCarthyism and declared himself an Independent in 1952.
Morse became a Democrat in 1955 and was reelected in 1956 and 1960, before Bob Packwood, another Republican maverick, defeated him in 1966.
Westlund won a State Senate seat from Central Oregon as a Republican. He quietly tried to end his party’s fake “surplus” rebates and their reckless “borrow and spend” policies. He was threatened with a purge from the party when he ran for reelection.
Westlund got the message, became an independent and ran for governor instead. When polls showed he could not win, Westlund gracefully retired from the field. Some grateful Democrats are now urging him to join their party and run for Smith’s Senate seat in 2008.
Given the voters’ rebuke of the Republican Party and Smith’s orthodox partisan voting record, Smith can no longer hide in Mark Hatfield’s maverick cloak. Smith is no maverick. Ben Westlund is. And Oregonians love their mavericks.
Finally, while Westlund's office insists that he is not thinking about running right now (while not denying that he might think about it later). Their recent statement can't really be taken seriously.
When asked via e-mail, '06 GOV candidate/state Sen. Ben Westlund (I) political adviser Stacey Dycus writes: "Democrats have been asking Ben to run against" Sen. Gordon Smith (R), "but he really hasn't considered it. People have also asked him about" Treas. and re-election to state Senate. "Right now, he's not thinking about his next election, he's thinking about a well-deserved vacation and the next session. ... He is an independent and all I can tell you is that his heart and mind is closer to the views held by Democrats, but he has no plans to change registration. If asked, he may caucus with the D's this session"
Clearly he did have plans to change his registration. Westlund is likely our 2nd best candidate to defeat Smith. Unfortunately, our best candidate seems to have no interest in running. Westlund might have a shot, but I think Kitzhaber would be very likely to take Smith down. In the absence of a Kitzhaber run, Westlund is a great candidate who can control the real center and contrast it against Smith's conservatism disguised as moderation. I think Westlund is preparing to run, and I hope he does.