Observers: Sanders, Trump wins in Oregon were not commanding
PORTLAND — It's no shock that Democrat Bernie Sanders and Republican Donald Trump won Oregon on Tuesday, nor was it unexpected that the state saw a record number of voters cast primary ballots.
But neither candidate necessarily walked away with the impressive landslides some were anticipating, especially for the Vermont senator in a state that's self-declared Bernie Sanders country.
And despite the record 1.2 million voters who turned out for the primary, the largest chunk of Oregon's electorate, Democrats, had a smaller turnout than they did in the 2008 presidential primary.
Sanders scooped up wins in just about all 36 Oregon counties except one — Gilliam County, where front runner Hillary Clinton led by a single vote. Yet, Democrats didn't favor Sanders, who won 56 percent of the vote, as strongly as President Barrack Obama, who won 59 percent in the 2008 primary over Clinton.
Conversely, voter participation on the Republican side — where Trump clinched the presumptive nomination weeks ago — saw a notable increase on Tuesday versus 2008. But the 66 percent of the GOP vote that went to Trump, political observers say, is a much lower approval than usual for the only candidate still standing.
"This is not good in terms of the general, because it means that both the party elite and, the evidence from Oregon suggests, the electorate are not coming together behind him very quickly," said Jim Moore, political science professor and director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University in Forest Grove. "If Oregon voters had come out, say, 80 percent for Trump, that would be a sign that the party elites were going to be the ones to have to cave."
As for Democrats, Moore said it's possible they're feeling fatigued.
Oregonians had signed up for the May 17 primary in unprecedented numbers this year, especially Democrats, suggesting the wild presidential race was engaging the public in ways that even outpaced Obama's appeal during his 2008 campaign.
By the time Tuesday rolled around — when Trump also won in Kentucky while Clinton is the apparent winner by a razor-thin margin — the election's dynamics had shifted. Exasperation over Sanders' refusal to step aside was growing. Clinton has hundreds more delegates than Sanders and is expected to clinch the presumptive nomination within weeks.
"We may find evidence that people are just tired of this thing on the Democratic side, just the grinding nature of the primary," Moore said.
Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins said it's too early to analyze primary voter behavior because ballots are still being counted, but it's tough comparing anything to Obama's 2008 campaign.
"That was a phenomenal election, everyone remembers that," she said. "I think there was a very, active on-the-ground effort in 2008 by the campaigns that wasn't probably matched here this year ... these things don't happen just by inspiration of the voters."