GOP Has High Hopes Despite Internal Warfare

Posted March 24, 2004 at 6:26pm

Excited by the possibility of picking up two Democratic House seats, Republicans in Oregon have two spirited primaries to watch.

The question is whether Republicans in each district can come together when the primaries are over.

Things have been heating up in the 5th district where state Sen. Jackie Winters has begun firing back at her opponent, attorney and businessman Jim Zupancic.

The winner will take on Rep. Darlene Hooley (D) in November.

Early on, Zupancic was the aggressor, relentlessly criticizing Winters for backing Measure 30 — the state Legislature’s failed attempt to shore up the state budget through a major tax increase — and for refusing to defend her vote publicly.

Now it is Winters who is on the attack about taxes, saying Zupancic has been disingenuous on the issue because he previously supported attempts to bolster public education with tax hikes.

“It’s really a red herring,” Zupancic said. “She’s doing it as a way to distract attention from her support of Measure 30.”

The proposals to increase the state real estate transfer and consumption taxes were specific to education and local in nature, he said. In both cases, local citizens could choose to raise more money for education through the taxes.

“My position is consistent,” he said.

Taxes aside, both camps say momentum is on their side.

“A lot of people have climbed on board,” Darryl Howard, Winters’ campaign manager said.

He pointed to a letter of support and a $1,000 check received from Oregon House Majority Leader Wayne Scott (R) as well as the endorsement Winters received from the Oregon Forest Industries Council.

Zupancic countered with another letter from Scott, who has also contributed to his campaign.

“I’ve been with Jim from the beginning, and want to let you know that I continue to stand with him today,” Scott wrote to Zupancic supporters.

Zupancic acknowledged that he courted the Oregon Forest Industries Council’s backing but said the endorsement of Winters was to be expected since the group often has business before the Legislature.

Howard said the endorsement could give Winters a big fundraising boost, as the timber industry has the ability to raise large sums for candidates it supports.

Winters began the year with about $64,000 in the bank and raised just more than $100,000 last quarter, according to Federal Election Commission reports. Howard said she is on track to raise that amount again this quarter, which ends March 31.

Zupancic began the year with $173,000 cash-on-hand, having raised $68,000 last quarter. He had loaned his campaign $150,000 through 2003. His campaign manager would not say how much Zupancic will report raising this quarter because he did not want to over- or underestimate.

Zupancic filed a complaint with the FEC recently, charging that Winters improperly used state campaign funds to promote her Congressional candidacy. The matter is pending.

The complaint “shows how hard it is to serve [in public office] and run [for Congress] at the same time,” Zupancic said of Winters.

Despite all the back and forth, Oregon Republican Party spokeswoman Dawn Phillips said the debate is good for the party.

“There’s a lot of energy and momentum and excitement in the grassroots” because of the 5th district primary, Phillips, said.

The exchanges in the 5th district pales in comparison to the early barbs in the GOP primary in the state’s 1st district.

Back in January, both Goli Ameri and Tim Phillips demanded apologies of each other after an exchange of angry e-mails.

Phillips had accused Ameri of flip-flopping on immigration and had put her “personal interest ahead of the interest of the nation.”

Ameri is an Iranian immigrant.

Phillips countered that he was in no way being xenophobic and demanded an apology from Ameri for suggesting otherwise.

Since then, the race to see who gets to challenge Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) has quieted substantially.

“Everybody’s pretty much hunkered down and raising money,” said Matt Evans, communications director for Phillips.

Both contests make most pundits’ races-to-watch list and have Oregon’s GOP fired up at the possibility of knocking off Democratic incumbents. Wu won re-election in 2002 with 63 percent of the vote but Hooley’s challenger, who spent $158,000 to her $622,000, snared 45 percent of the vote in 2002.

Zupancic said that shows Hooley is vulnerable and that a well-financed, well-organized Republican can give her a run for her money in a decidedly swing district.

“This will be a much different race; that’s what gives us motivation,” Zupancic said.