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One spoiler out, one still in

Starrett's presence on the ballot is not good news for Saxton

The news that Mary Starrett will remain on the November ballot in the governor's race caused the Ron Saxton campaign to quickly disavow any involvement in the effort to invalidate her candidacy. It also probably caused them to pull a few hairs out &

8212; behind closed doors, of course.

That's because Starrett, despite her protestations, is a spoiler, just as Ben Westlund was before her. And, in Starrett's case, it's Saxton's campaign that may be spoiled.

Starrett's candidacy probably got a lift from the tempest, which was kicked off when a former Republican legislator filed a complaint seeking to remove her from the ballot. The ex-legislator, Kelly Clark, of Lake Oswego, said the Constitution Party failed to file adequate notice of the June — meeting in which Starrett was nominated. The state disagreed and Starrett's name, barring more challenges, will remain on the ballot.

That's not good news for Saxton's campaign. Although the Portland Republican veered to the right in winning his party's nomination, he's too moderate for Starrett and the ideologues of her ilk. While Saxton is clearly more conservative than incumbent Democrat Ted Kulongoski, the far right members of Oregon's GOP are already lining up behind Starrett. And that, a la 1990, could keep the Democrats in the governor's mansion for another four years.

There is no chance &

8212; zero, zilch, nada &

8212; that Starrett will win the race. She stakes out positions far to the right on issues such as immigration, abortion, gay marriage, PERS, land use and school choice, but offers platitudes instead of programs in her campaign stump. In contrast, Starrett's predecessor in the spoiler role, Ben Westlund, came to the governor's race with spelled-out plans on tax reform, health care, school funding and more. Nevertheless, he came a cropper when his campaign struggled to gather enough signatures to qualify him for the ballot and failed to generate much enthusiasm among voters.

Westlund, it was generally thought, would have pulled votes from Kulongoski, who alienated the liberal wing of his party in his first term. That seemed to put Saxton in the driver's seat after the May primary, but the advantage quickly turned with Westlund's withdrawal from the race earlier this month and Starrett's modest rise in name familiarity.

Both Westlund and Starrett &

8212; and their supporters &

8212; bristled at the tag of "spoiler." They say that diminishes them in the eyes of the electorate and marginalizes their campaigns. In truth, whatever their strengths, their campaigns were and are marginal.

Westlund cannot claim, as many minor party candidates have, that he was ignored by the media. In fact, considering he never managed to crack double figures in any poll, he probably received more attention from the press than he warranted. Starrett will not appeal to a majority of Republicans, let alone a majority of all voters, unless she has secret knowledge of a hidden trove of anti-abortion, anti-union, anti-immigrant Democrats who will turn out for her in November.

But Starrett, despite her lack of experience, lack of solutions and lack of wide support, could be the determining factor in the governor's race. If conservatives buy her theme that there is no difference between Saxton and Kulongoski, then the former will remain a Portland lawyer and the latter will remain in the governor's mansion.