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Knute the moderate's MAGA bid

Republican Knute Buehler announced his candidacy last week for a congressional seat that covers eastern and central Oregon, and his primary race in 2020 could be one to watch.

As you might recall, the Corvallis Gazette-Times endorsed the Bend physician in his failed bid for governor in 2018. The GT editorial board believed at the time that the state of Oregon was stuck in neutral on various key issues, including the education system, and we thought Buehler could jumpstart change. (The Albany Democrat-Herald has a longstanding tradition of not endorsing candidates for elected office.)

In our opinion, Buehler was the best Republican candidate for governor of Oregon in at least two decades, and he carried broad appeal.

During his time in the Oregon House of Representatives, Buehler was willing to part ways with his Republican colleagues on a number of occasions, perhaps most notably on a gun-control measure to ban firearms ownership by people convicted of domestic abuse.

It was easy to compare him to the sort of moderate Republican Oregonians used to elect, the kind of fiscally conservative politicians who were open-minded enough to work with their colleagues across the aisle for the betterment of the state. For some of us, names such as Mark Hatfield and Tom McCall came to mind as the ideal forms of such an elected representative.

So it was disconcerting to see Buehler posturing a bit in a video announcing his candidacy.

Buehler aligned himself with President Donald Trump and criticized impeachment proceedings in the video, which also showed footage of campaign rallies with “Make America Great Again” posters and more. This was a type of move that Buehler resisted in the governor’s race, when he actually dared to criticize Trump.

In the video, Buehler also was critical of liberals in Portland and elites in Washington, D.C., and said he opposes higher taxes and sanctuary cities. He stressed that he supports gun rights, and to be sure, one can support both the Second Amendment and stricter gun laws. (We think felons in possession of a firearm should face much harsher penalties, for example.)

We understand that to win the Republican primary for the 2nd Congressional District, which has historically been deep red, Buehler has to appeal to conservatives. The seat is currently held by Greg Walden, the lone Republican from Oregon in Congress, who isn’t seeking re-election to a 12th term.

By embracing a polarizing president, Buehler may win over some voters, but he risks alienating others. President Trump, at least outside of Washington, D.C., isn’t loved by all Republicans. So there’s a risk involved with the MAGA brand, and the association could backfire somewhat.

The stance is sure to sour liberals regarding Buehler, but that probably isn’t much of a concern right now. He has to win the primary, and, after all, it’s all but impossible to flip the 2nd Congressional District to the Democrats. Demographics are changing, but they haven’t changed that much yet.

In conservative-dominated areas such as Linn County and central and eastern Oregon, Democrats are more than willing to choose who they deem the best person for office, no matter what party they belong to. The Democratic candidates in rural Oregon haven’t always been serious contenders over the years, so it’s hard for liberal voters to stay true blue. After all, why vote for a neophyte rather than a seasoned politician who can bring home public dollars for much-needed projects?

Democrats don’t have an experienced voice of note in the race yet, but there’s plenty of time for that to change. But Democrat or Republican, candidates can now run not only against Buehler, but President Trump, as well. That’s a message some mavericks may get behind. Buehler, in his new stance, seems to be betting there isn’t much middle ground left in sagebrush territory.