From the new book by Sam Carpenter, a chapter from Making Oregon Great Again: Guide to the Grassroots Revitalization of the Oregon Republican Party (and the Defeat of the Ruling Class).
Download the entire book for free at www.makeoregongreatagain.com/book
Vote Splitting and Oregon Right to Life.
“SALEM — Anonymous campaign donations are banned in Oregon, but nearly half the money raised by a leading Republican gubernatorial candidate cannot be directly traced because it comes from two out-of-state corporations.
“The two corporations have donated $125,000 of the $288,000 raised so far by candidate Greg Wooldridge, who lists ‘the sunshine of accountability’ as part of his campaign platform.
“What the functions of the corporations are — and who is behind them — was a mystery only partly cleared up by the campaign after the donations were made. One is tied to a California real estate executive, but the other, listed as a Nevada firm, had its business license yanked, an Associated Press review found.”
Through the campaign, Wooldridge didn’t hesitate to tout his Naval officer credibility as he repeatedly blathered on about what he called, “the sunshine of accountability.”
As we look back on what happened, it’s painful to review the active hypocracy – what our three opponents apparently considered “the rules of this particular game.” We are not so much angry at what happened, as stunned at the lengths some candidates will go to win races or, if not destined to win, to seek retribution for some imagined slight.
Or maybe sometimes there are other more ignoble reasons.
No Rules, and the Chaos Factor
Diana and I realize now, without question, via our own inside-the-meat-grinder participation, that in the professional political game there simply are no rules. Any ploy is permissible as long as one can get away with that particular ploy. We are both from the private sector, so this kind of thinking is foreign to us. This naiveté hurt us, not so much because we could have gone down that road and didn’t, but because we really didn’t see the fiendish steamroller approaching. Naïve? Maybe. But ask yourself, if you were the leading conservative candidate in a Republican primary race, would you have seen this coming? Maybe this expose will save future grassroots candidates from some serious grief.
And we marvel that a political campaign team can be sucked so far into a fake world of hearsay and gossip that they become driven to blind hate. In the campaign, as our momentum surged, we watched the opposing teams’ anger build and build, based on rumor-mongering and a ruthless desire to win…and God-knows what else. In the first couple of months of the campaign, the various candidates/staff were reasonable and friendly with each other. But then, in the last stages, all vestiges of diplomacy fell away and campaign people said and did things they could never walk-back.
And there is the chaos-factor, honed to a fine art by the Left media: if the preferred candidate seems to be losing, promote a storm over nothing at all because at least that’s garnering publicity and who knows what the positive outfall might be? Creating chaos and instituting personal destruction are the only fallbacks for a candidate who can’t win in the arena of ideas. Remember the Hollywood maxim: “bad publicity is better than no publicity at all.”
There’s another maxim too, a favorite of mine that is a chapter title in my book Work the System. It’s called “Gun-to-the-Head-Enlightenment.” What the heck, the losing side says, what have we got to lose by going scorched-earth? We’re going to lose anyway so why not go hog-wild and see if something comes of it? (Remember the final fight scene in the first Hunger Games movie?)
Wooldridge finally did come out in tepid support of our President, in the Lars Larson debate just four days before Election Day. Why would he reverse his positioning so late? Hey, the election deadline was just four days away! Why not? It was a last-minute opening to play both sides of the aisle and to further bite into my grassroots base, all to the benefit of Knute Buehler. Wooldridge knew, from his own polls and/or others, that he didn’t have any hope of winning (he had dropped to 4% by the end of March). But then again, in the opinions of more than a few politicos – and whether he knew it or not – winning the nomination wasn’t why he was in the race.
The Sordid Details
Following are the unpleasant details of the long-term vote-splitter ploy within the 2018 Oregon Republican primary campaign. I’m simply going to describe what happened on-the-ground. Let’s start with Oregon Right to Life (ORTL), the endorsement of which has always been coveted by Republican grassroots candidates.
In September of 2017, before I filed for the race, I called ORTL to talk to their director about my potential candidacy. At the time, ORTL touted themselves as the most visible pro-life/anti-abortion organization in Oregon.
I was transferred to the newly appointed Director. In our chat, I told him I was thinking of running for governor and would like to know what would be necessary to vie for ORTL’s valuable endorsement. It was a pleasant conversation and the banter rolled along with the Director listening carefully and answering my questions thoughtfully.
He said the ORTL endorsement would be more than six months out, but that he appreciated that I had contacted him so early.
Then, just before we hung up, he asked me a strange question (and I thought it strange in that moment, not just in retrospect). He asked, “do you know a guy by the name of Greg Wooldridge? He’s been in here, visiting our office. He’s a retired Navy pilot and officer. Seems like a sharp guy. He’s thinking of running for governor, too.”
I answered truthfully, that I had never heard of him.
After we finished talking and hung up, I turned to Diana and told her that a slightly odd thing had just happened. Why, I asked her, would the Director of ORTL be praising another potential candidate as I was clearly contacting him in order to tout my own qualifications for candidacy? It just didn’t seem proper. Almost rude. Remember, this was in September, 2017, five months before Wooldridge would actually file as a candidate. I let it go, though. Not a big deal. It just cast a bit of a dark cloud over the conversation.
Keep this in mind, and I mentioned this in a previous chapter: in Mid-September, concurrent with my first conversation with ORTL's Director, a bogus “iCitizen” poll was conducted by Wooldridge supporters, touting Wooldridge as the leader in the contest.
I filed for the race on October 25th. In early November, I called the director again. At the end of another pleasant back-and-forth, out of the blue, he asked me the same strange question, and I paraphrase only slightly: “Do you know this guy Greg Wooldridge? He seems sharp.” Now I had a burning suspicion that I would not be winning the ORTL endorsement.
Something was going on behind the scenes, and we began to connect the obvious dots.
Continuing to lurk quietly in the background, Woodridge was still three months out from filing for the race. Call me paranoid, but at this point it was my presumption that he was waiting in the wings to see if I, Sam Carpenter, a Trump-supporting candidate, would challenge Buehler in the polls. And then I asked myself, if this is so, who is encouraging/compensating him to be there, waiting, “just in case Carpenter’s polls take off”?
Then, on January 14th, Diana and I attended an ORTL rally at Pioneer Square in Portland. I was the only Republican gubernatorial candidate to show up. After we listened to the various presentations, we made our way through the dispersing crowd to the makeshift backstage area to meet the Director in person for the first time. Nice guy. Again, we had a pleasant talk, and again, as we were about to step away, he asked us about Wooldridge, even though Wooldridge had not yet filed for the race and was not at the event. It was January and this was a statewide race and it would soon be a little late to start campaigning. Buehler had filed the previous August, and I had filed in October (and what some politicos called a late entry)
It was mid-January. WHY had Wooldridge not filed for the race yet?
Something was definitely going on behind the scenes. It was precisely at this point, at the Portland ORTL rally, that we became certain that Wooldridge would be a shadow-candidate who might or might not run; a backup grassroots spoiler ready-to-go just in case my Trump-supporting, grassroots campaign should take-off. And then, again we asked ourselves, if this is true, who exactly is behind it? Buehler, or Buehler-supporting Ruling Class Republicans, or the progressive Left, or ORTL, or some combination of the above?
It was in the first week of February as my polls really began to surge against Buehler that Wooldridge finally and predictably jumped into the race…after hovering in the background for five months. My polling surge and Wooldridge’s entrance into the contest: odd coincidence? You tell me…
In late February, Diana, David Gulliver, and I would go through the standard candidate interview process at the ORTL headquarters in Keizer, engaging with the Board of Directors. We left the meeting knowing it had been a good interview and that there was no question about my qualifications: The Director and the Board knew without a doubt that I was “pro-life from conception.” They also were aware that I was a veteran of two U.S. Senate statewide campaigns, and that Wooldridge had never run for office.
But we knew for sure, sitting there with the Board, that the endorsement had already decided. For the Board of Directors, the interview with us was a no-getting-out-of-it requirement. The most we could hope for was that ORTL would endorse both Wooldridge and me, but we doubted that even that would happen.
It is notable that Wooldridge, as he made his last-minute candidacy announcement in early February, didn’t have a campaign website or Facebook page set up, ready to go. On that day, a Wooldridge spokesperson said that the pages were “under construction.” In fact, it was weeks before they appeared, and when they did show up, the pages were of minimal content and amateurish; his positions cookie-cutter and bland. Although he had been lurking in the background for at least five months, Wooldridge’s sudden entrance was obviously knee-jerk; unprepared, as if maybe he was calculating his entrance into the race might not be necessary. Or maybe, as some say, it was because his candidacy was never meant to be a winning one.
In any case, throughout his campaign, right to the end, his online presence was minimal and bland.
Oregon Secretary of State’s records show there was no financial activity in the Wooldridge campaign until February 15th.
The ORTL Board HAD to know all that…
On March 9th, with our polls continuing to advance, the ORTL endorsement did indeed go to Wooldridge. ORTL would not consider endorsing the two of us. Just Wooldridge. What the Hell, our small team members asked each other, annoyed, but by then we were not surprised. The ORTL Director called me that day and said the Board had decided Wooldridge, “would be better able to raise money for his campaign.”
That’s all he said. That was the ORTL’s Board of Director’s reasoning.
When I asked the Director why the Board didn’t endorse both of us, he said they “did not want to split the pro-life vote.” Looking back, that was an especially ironic statement since that’s exactly what Wooldridge did in the primary – split the vote – as he was powered along by the ORTL endorsement (and poised to absorb the pro-life votes that would be driven from me via Buehler’s intense mudslinging in the last few weeks of the campaign).
In any case, a few weeks passed and despite the ORTL endorsement, Wooldridge’s numbers tanked. Surprising even to us, and as I mentioned previously, on March 25th he polled at only 4% which was one-half of the 8% he had been polling exactly one month before, 3 weeks after he had filed for the race. We thought, this can’t be comforting for Buehler, Wooldridge, or ORTL.
But it sure felt good to us.
The scientific polls we had conducted clearly displayed our power and momentum, and as I pointed out in the previous chapter, there is no question that Buehler’s internal scientific polls were showing our power and momentum, too. In any case, we were surely headed for the primary win with our campaign strategy of talking to voters, and with a small budget…and despite the obvious Wooldridge vote-splitting incursion.
Although we had taken the lead, our small team continued to hammer 24/7. One could never know what might be lurking around the corner.
And sure enough, in the second week of April, on the heels of our seizing the lead in the polls, the big-money, three-candidate smear assault began. It changed everything.
In the end, when all the dust had settled and the primary election was over, a host of questions materialized.
If ORTL was committed to making sure a Pro-Life candidate won the primary election and ultimately took control of the governor’s office, why did they not do their due diligence? With tens of thousands of lives – literally – at stake, wouldn’t they have conducted their own polling to gather the facts?
ORTL would have gathered that Greg Wooldridge had no chance of winning the nomination (a fact that everyone knew…including Greg. He was polling at 4% in late March). So why did ORTL not try to persuade Wooldridge to throw his support behind me, a Pro-Life candidate who was polling at 23% and had a real chance of winning? Even if Wooldridge had refused to pull out, then why would they not have endorsed me as well? Or for that matter, why did they feel that Wooldridge’s “life begins at conception” stance was sincerer than my own “life begins at conception” stance? Or for that matter, Bruce Cuff’s?
Lest there be any confusion, Diana and I are pro-life and believe strongly in the need to elect pro-life leaders to the state government. We enthusiastically supported Measure 106, as well as Oregon Life United’s petition drive leading up to it, in a variety of ways including financially. We had encouraged others to do the same.
* Regarding how we were winning, read a blog post I made in late March, 2018: See Appendix B