Huge number of voters change their registration
PORTLAND — An astonishing 111,000 Oregonians given themselves a voice by changing their voter registrations to Democrat and Republican this year ahead of the state's presidential primary.
That figure dwarfs registration change numbers during President Barack Obama's 2008 primary campaign more than threefold.
The bulk of these voters — who previously weren't registered with either party and wouldn't have been able to cast a presidential ballot this month — made the switch in the weeks before the April 26 primary deadline, when excitement was building over the state's potentially key role in deciding the nominees.
The data, obtained from the Oregon Secretary of State, suggested the May 17 event could have been a record-breaking voter turnout — at least it did until this week.
Things shifted after Tuesday, when Donald Trump became the presumptive GOP nominee: He won Indiana's Republican primary and his two opponents dropped out of the race. Bernie Sanders won the Democratic primary in Indiana, although Hillary Clinton's lead in delegates is seen as almost insurmountable.
So for most of the dozen remaining primaries through June — especially in small states like Oregon, where 102 delegates are up for grabs — political observers say their impact is now more symbolic than actual.
Oregon's primary, one of four in the next two weeks, could serve as a "petri dish for a national conversation" about the changing dynamics of the two parties heading into the general election, said Jim Moore, professor and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University.
"Does the Republican party begin to gather around Donald Trump ... or are we going to see an electorate that's still pretty cranky and fractured over the Trump candidacy?" Moore said. "The Oregon primary on the Democratic side is going to continue to be that conversation about where the party needs to go, but not really with the hope that Bernie will be the nominee."
How that'll dig into the psyche of voters, and possibly change the record-breaking turnout many were anticipating in Oregon, is unclear, especially for the GOP.
Of the 111,000 voters who joined the two major parties this year — more than three-quarters of whom were previously nonaffiliated — the biggest chunk, about 84,800, went to Democrats.
Moore said they likely lean toward Oregon's "Bernie-mania" electorate, although it's less clear who they support on the Republican side. The only GOP poll, released last week, showed Trump with a double-digit lead in Oregon.
Additionally, 100,900 new Oregon voters were added to the rolls this year through April — up 42 percent from the same time in 2008, when primary turnout was the highest since then 1970s — and nearly half registered with the two major parties, but mostly Democrats.
Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins estimates a new "motor voter" law — which automatically signs up drivers to vote when they get a new or renewed license — resulted in half of those new registrations. But she doubts the law had an effect on the party affiliation changes, which means this year's election is drawing attention and interest "like never before," she said.
Even after Tuesday's damper on Oregon's primary, Moore said it's still possible voter turnout could come out strong, at least for Sanders.
"The Republicans are another thing because all of a sudden the drama is gone," he said. "And in fact, if you go in and vote for somebody other than Trump it's simply a protest vote ... so we don't have a sense as to what that does to Republican turnout."
Campaigning in Oregon is continuing, despite the changes this week.
Bill Clinton was making his second Oregon visit on Thursday — Hillary Clinton herself has yet to do so. There was no word from Sanders about a fourth visit.
Trump is reportedly paying his first visit Friday evening in Eugene, which his local campaign manager, Jacob Daniels, confirmed with the Associated Press. The rally hasn't been officially announced by the national campaign.
"We're still not certain who the (Democratic) nominee is going to be," Daniels said. "So as far as strategy moving forward in the general election, we're just going to have to see how things unfold while also simultaneously planning for what we expect to happen."