Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Thom Hartmann Headshot

Obama - Is Oregon the Bellwether for the Nation or Just a Bunch of Latte Liberals?

Posted: Updated:

Last night I found myself screaming at the television. What the commentators seemed to be saying was "Well, yeah, those folks out in Oregon, those mostly white folks out in Oregon, they did vote for Barack Obama, but, you know, they're the exception in this country because they're just so weird. They are so liberal out there in Oregon. You can't use them as any kind of barometer or metric for anything about what could happen in the real election."

Not true.

I wanted to do a reality check. So, I checked in with Kari Chisholm of, which is the premier political blog in this state, the state of Oregon.

[Thom Hartmann]: Did you catch the coverage, did you see what I saw, did you hear what I heard last night?

[Kari Chisholm]: Actually I was out, running from election party to election party. It was our primary here and I had a lot of friends running for office so I missed the coverage, but I've got to tell you, I saw a lot of it in advance. New York Times, National Public Radio referring to Oregon as a largely white but affluent state, which is about as incorrect as you could possibly get. Oregon, you know, Portland is an affluent city, but the state of Oregon in general is certainly not an affluent state. It is a working class state. Our average annual income in the state is $2,000 a year below the national median. Three years ago we were the number one state in the country for hunger. I don't want to bad mouth my own state here, and we've taken huge strides in combating that but this is certainly a working class state that for forever has been a state based on natural resources, you know, we had a timber economy for a lot of time, for a lot of years.

[Thom Hartmann]: And a fishing economy and both are collapsing, and this is a state that is experiencing some real economic distress.

[Kari Chisholm]: Yeah.

[Thom Hartmann]: Not unlike Ohio. I mean, we're not the rust belt, we're the wood and fish belt I guess, but we're having crises here.

[Kari Chisholm]: Yeah, you know, it is a very white state, that is true, and Portland is certainly, they call it the People's Republic of Portland sometimes. But when you get outside of Portland, and to me is what's what so disappointing here, is we've got national media who are coming to Portland and they're hanging out in our very excellent coffee shops and they're not getting on the road and going out and seeing the real Oregon.

[Thom Hartmann]: Yeah, and the subtext to this in my mind is, frankly, racist. You know, it's, or somehow a failure on the part of many of these commentators and perhaps an intentional failure on the part of the more conservative commentators, to even understand what they, what they mean when they say liberal. Or else to, you know, they're back to using the old pejorative definition of the term, you know, the bleeding heart liberal. "Oh well, they just vote for that guy because they want to embrace everybody because they don't understand how the world works". You know, all that kind of nonsense. And in fact Oregon, and you and I had this conversation on our local show, on AM620 KPOJ here in Portland, yesterday as I recall. Maybe it was the day before yesterday. Portland, or Oregon in general, is about the most average state in the United States. So much so that companies do their test marketing here.

[Kari Chisholm]: That's right. You know, we get strange products in our fast food and strange new combinations of soda pop. We get all kinds of strange products here that they are test marketing in part because Oregon is, there was a study done abut a year ago, we're the most average in all sort of demographics. Our racial profile actually matches the national profile. Our socio-economic profile matches the national profile, although just a little bit below average. Our urban-rural mix roughly matches the national average. And that's true both in the commercial world and also in the political world. Oregon is a place were political activists, especially conservative ballot measure activists, test drive a lot of ideas, because we have such a wide open ballot measure culture and we have one major media market -- Portland, Oregon -- and so it's fairly cheap to try and effect the outcome of elections here. Oregon is a swing state. Al Gore only won the state in 2000 by 7,000 votes. John Kerry was campaigning here right up to the end to win it.

[Thom Hartmann]: He only won by 4 points.

[Kari Chisholm]: We have fairly consistently gone for the Democrat but that is a lot of work. and a lot of folks.

[Thom Hartmann]: And we have a Republican Senator and we have a Republican Member of Congress.

[Kari Chisholm]: We're the only state on the West Coast with a Republican US Senator and we will by the way defeat Gordon Smith this fall with Jeff Merkley who won the Democratic primary last night.

[Thom Hartmann]: Yeah, congratulations to Jeff, a great victory.

[Kari Chisholm]: Yeah, it's a big win. You know, we're going to have a progressive in the United States Senate from Oregon to match our other Senator, Ron Wyden. But, you know, this is a swing state and there's a lot of folks that work very hard to make it look easy here in Oregon. And every year we expect to compete hard. It's actually going to be a fairly competitive state this year. John McCain does better here than most of the other Republicans that they could have put up.

[Thom Hartmann]: Ron Paul pulled 14% or 15% of the vote last night, didn't he, in the Republican primary?

[Kari Chisholm]: I think that's right. You know, Barack Obama's win here, which was about 58 to 41, and was a state-wide win, you know, there were some, certainly some counties in the East of the state where he split with Hillary but, you know, he didn't just win in the Portland metro area. Barack Obama won out on the coast in Lincoln County where there are more cows than people. He won He won in Jackson County and Josephine County and Curry County on the South West corner of the state. Barack Obama's win...

[Thom Hartmann]: These are very rural, relatively low income areas.

[Kari Chisholm]: Yeah.

[Thom Hartmann]: This is not the yuppie outposts that people think of, incorrectly, think of rural Oregon as being.

[Kari Chisholm]: You know, he won in Wallowa County which is in the North East corner, the Idaho part of Oregon, the home town of our senator, Gordon Smith, the Republican. So he won.

[Thom Hartmann]: Barack Obama won.

[Kari Chisholm]: Barack Obama won east and west, north and south, rural...

[Thom Hartmann]: So we've got two things here. Number one, Barack Obama's victories in Oregon can drive a stake into the idea that working white people or low income white people will not vote for Barack Obama. And number two, and this is a genuine question to you, Kari, in the minute or minute and a half we have left here, how can we push back against a national media that has bought this story line? I mean, they get their teeth into a story line and they just never let go. That has bought into the story line that somehow there are some states that are just so liberal that they don't represent the rest of the country, and Oregon in particular is one of them, and therefore, don't pay attention to that victory by Barack Obama last night.

[Kari Chisholm]: Yeah, it's completely nutty. Oregon is, as I said, you know, the most average state in the country. We are a swing state. For decades we had a county, Crook county on Oregon, that was the bellwether, it was the only county in America that always voted for the winner of the presidential election, it would go back and forth. You know, Barack Obama's win here in Oregon I think tells you very clearly that if you're test marketing political candidates, this is a guy who can win across the entire country.

I think actually what's really going on with Hillary Clinton, and I think you've talked about this, is that she's very strong in Appalachia. I mean, take a map of the counties where she has won 55% the vote or better in the entire country, and you highlight them, and you'll look at a map of that compared to a map of the Appalachian region. Guess what - it matches. She did very well all the way from southern New York and western Pennsylvania all the way down to northern Mississippi and northern Alabama, through West Virginia and eastern Kentucky. She has literally dominated in Appalachia. She's the queen of Appalachia which is, you know, great. But Barack Obama's winning the rest of the country.

[Thom Hartmann]: Yeah, and that's, and Appalachia's not representative of the rest of the country the way Oregon is.

[Kari Chisholm]: You're right.

[Thom Hartmann]: Kari Chisholm, publisher of

Transcript courtesy of Sue Nethercott