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Some fall election races could get interesting

An analysis of Tuesday's primary election shows four candidates could be in for a real horse race this fall, while three others have a lot of catching up to do.

The thing I look at is, once those results came in the campaign began, said Sal Esquivel, who received 4,940 Republican votes in House District 6.

His Democratic challenger, John Doty, the underdog in a district with a Republican majority, said, Sal's got a lead straight out the gate. It just means I have to start moving.

Doty, a teacher at CrossRoads alternative school, received 3,542 Democratic votes, which he thinks is a good showing for a relative unknown.

Two local races ' for Senate and for county commissioner ' could be neck and neck, while three House seats will prove difficult for the underdogs.

— Candidates, campaign managers and political leaders will spend the coming weeks analyzing voting patterns district by district. They will also reach out to independents and to the sizable number of voters in both parties who didn't vote for a candidate in the primary.

Both Doty and Esquivel, a real estate broker, had significant amounts of under-votes, a potential target group. My hope is that those who didn't vote for Sal will listen to me, said Doty.

In the Senate District — race, Democratic incumbent Alan Bates, with 10,814 votes, is slightly ahead of Republican Jim Wright's 9,237, but with a higher percentage of Democrats voting in the primary, the lead could potentially disappear in November.

This race will go down to the wire, said Wright, vice chairman of LTM Inc.

The Bates/Wright race is going to be a close race, echoed Cathy Shaw, campaign manager for Bates.

For the county board of commissioners seat, C.W. Smith got 15,099 Republican votes to Sue Densmore's 11,021 from Democrats. But if Densmore picks up a majority of outgoing Commissioner Sue Kupillas' 6,172 votes, it becomes a tighter race.

Democrat Peter Buckley received 4,095 votes in the House District 5 race, and he could pick up a lot of Judy Uherbelau's 3,844 votes in the general election. Republican challenger Joanna Lofaso received 3,499 votes.

House District 4 incumbent Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican attorney, received 3,976 votes. Political newcomer Richard Koopmans, a Democrat and Sams Valley resident, received 2,050.

In the presidential race, President Bush received 16,745 votes from Jackson County residents, Sen. John F. Kerry received 12,698 and Dennis J. Kucinich came in with a surprising 3,971 votes, about 22 percent of the Democratic vote. If Kerry picks up Kucinich voters, the gap closes.

While the election results are indicators of a base of voters for a particular candidate, the poor turnout of 36.9 percent leaves many political analysts doubting its significance. For example, in the May 2000 primary, the turnout was 52.6 percent and in 2000, the general election brought out 77.5 percent of voters.

The numbers are virtually meaningless, said Shaw, who is a political consultant as well as Bates' campaign manager. There's no 'aha' in these numbers.

For Bates, a Medford physician, the challenge will be to attract some Republicans and court the independents. But Shaw cautions that most independents generally vote along a particular party line and are independent in name only.

Shaw said there are about 2,000 more Republicans in the Senate district that could give Wright an edge on his base of voters.

Wright said he was happy with the strong showing in the primary, particularly because he has little name recognition.

With Buckley and Lofaso, however, Shaw gives the Ashland Democrat the edge. Buckley's at an enormous advantage to Lofaso because he has built up a (political) machine, she said. He is months ahead of Lofaso. She's got a lot of work to do.

Lofaso, a political newcomer who works for Wells Fargo Bank, agreed there is much to do in her campaign against Buckley, executive director of the nonprofit Democracy's Edge. I have a lot of name recognition that I need to get out there, she said.

She also said the primary outcome is not necessarily an indicator of what could happen in the fall.

Bryan Platt, chairman of the Republican Central Committee, didn't put too much stock in the primary numbers. My attitude is, it's meaningless because the turnout is too low.

Still, Platt was surprised at the large numbers Densmore had over Kupillas.

He also thinks Uherbelau's vote will get split, with some going to Lofaso and some to Buckley.

Amy Amrhein, campaign manager for Buckley, disagreed with Platt, saying her candidate should easily attract most of Uherbelau's votes.

Buckley also stands a better chance in this district dominated by 15,084 Democrats to 11,834 Republicans.

Platt believes Lofaso has to get her name out and to make a strong appeal to voters in rural areas of this district. She will make a good case for herself, he said.

In November, Platt expects the politics and philosophies of Smith and Densmore will make the commissioner's race an easy choice for voters. He also thinks Smith, a former sheriff, walks into the campaign with better name recognition.

But Densmore, a Medford communications consultant, expects to have a broad base of appeal this fall. I am not going to give in to the idea that people are going to vote along the party lines, she said.

Densmore also hopes to strengthen her base by attracting the relatively large numbers of Democratic under-votes that Kupillas didn't receive in past elections.

Independents will play an important role in all the races, but they will be particularly significant in the Wright-Bates race.

With a district almost divided between the two parties ' 25,060 Democrats to 26,885 Republicans ' the emphasis will be on the district's 16,940 independents, said Wright.

He said the Republican party views this as a key race and will put a lot of emphasis on it in the coming months.

It's a priority race from both sides, he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail