5 Juicy Subplots to Watch before Election Day

Election results start coming in tomorrow. Here’s what we’ll be reading up on until then.

By Julia Silverman October 29, 2020

Mannequins dressed up and holding signs in support of the Democratic candidates outside a house in Lake Oswego

Got election fever? Checking the presidential polls and the early vote trackers constantly and trying to parse for clues on what it all means?  

Us too—but don’t overlook local and statewide races, where there are some pretty juicy late-breaking storylines developing. To wit: 

  • Speaking of that voter turnout, the. numbers are truly astounding. Statewide, 58 percent of eligible voters have returned their ballots so far. As elsewhere, Democrats have the edge in early voting—the Secretary of State’s office says that 71 percent of registered Democrats have already returned their ballots, compared with 62 percent of Republicans. By this point in 2016, only about 42 percent of ballots had been turned in. At that rate, could Oregon break—nay, smash—turnout records? Or is this just a case of a motivated electorate that wants to get their ballots in ASAP? Stay tuned. (And, inside tip—as longtime Oregon reporter Gary Warner of EO Media points out, Tillamook and Columbia Counties are bellweathers for the state, having gone for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, and then flipped to Donald Trump on 2016. It’s worth keeping an eye on the rate of return ballots from Democrats vs. Republicans in both places. So far, it’s running about even in Tillamook County, but Democrats are in the lead in Columbia County.) 
  • It’s a little weird that the race to be Oregon’s next Secretary of State, between state senators Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) and Shemia Fagan (D-Happy Valley) has flown comparatively under-the-radar. True, the presidential race sucks up quite a bit of oxygen. And there has been a real dearth of polling in this race. Voters might assume that this race will go Democratic, thanks to that party’s voting edge in Oregon, but that ignores 2016, when the late Dennis Richardson, a Republican, captured the seat. There are signs that the race is turning a little edgy in the closing days—a recent press release from Fagan noted Thatcher’s negative take on the New York Times’s 1619 Project, which seeks to re-frame the legacy of slavery in the United States—a topical issue, but not particularly central to the Secretary of State’s office, which focuses on elections and audits. 
  • Two local congressional races are down to the wire, too. We wrote last week about the race between incumbent Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio and challenger Alek Skarlatos in Oregon’s 4th Congressional District and between incumbent Republican Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler and challenger Carolyn Long in southwest Washington. Both races are continuing to attract national attention and big money;  the influential Cook Political Report has shifted its rating on the Herrera-Beutler/Long race from “likely Republican” to “lean Republican,” while the DeFazio/Skarlatos race is in the “lean Democratic” column. 
  • A bonusYou’ve seen that viral video from Philly, right, of voters dancing the cha-cha slide while waiting in line? It’s the one drawback of the Oregon vote-at-home system, that we don’t get spontaneous dance-offs like this. A local “Cirque d’Vote” team is aiming to correct that, hosting a Stilt walker-led parade in downtown Portland tomorrow night from nightclub Dante’s Inferno to the nearby official ballot box at Pioneer Square. Check emergencycircus.com for more info—this election season has been a circus, after all, so why not close it out with a joyful one? 
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