It's former anchor versus senate veteran in race

SALEM — Republican Rick Dancer spent two decades as a TV reporter and anchor before making a late entry into the Oregon secretary of state's race — his first bid for public office.

He knows he's facing a tough fight against Democratic state Sen. Kate Brown, a veteran lawmaker and Senate caucus leader. Dancer figures his journalistic skills and his name recognition in the Eugene TV market will be a plus.

"People know me ... for 20 years I was in their living room while they were having dinner," said Dancer of his years on television.

Brown, with her base of political support in the Portland area and her strong ties to labor groups statewide, believes Oregon voters will decide that her years in the legislative trenches, as Senate minority leader then majority leader, trumps Dancer's TV fame.

"He is well-meaning and well-intended, but having experience is really important in this day and age," Brown said of the secretary of state's post, considered the No. 2 job in state government after the Oregon governor.

It is a key position, since the secretary of state is the state's top election official as well as chief auditor of state programs. The next secretary of state will have the politically charged task of redrawing legislative districts after the 2010 census.

At this point, Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts believes Dancer is the decided underdog in the race for several reasons, not the least of which is the Democrats' continuing gains over Republicans in voter registration.

About 43 percent of the state's 2 million registered voters are now Democrats, Hibbitts notes, while just 33 percent are Republicans.

"Just because he is known in the Eugene TV market doesn't mean that's going to translate to political support," Hibbitts said. "He is running as a Republican in a media market that leans Democrat. That not a prescription for electoral success."

Dancer knows it could be another dismal year for Republicans in a state that's been trending more blue in recent years. But he said he's not running as a traditional Republican.

He supports the concept of opening up primary elections so that independent voters, currently not allowed to vote in Oregon's Republican and Democratic primary elections, would have a say in picking candidates.

He also supports making the secretary of state a nonpartisan office, as a way to assure the public that the person in that position can take a neutral, balanced approach to tasks like handling election disputes.

"People are sick and tired of partisan politics," Dancer says. He says that includes Brown, who has spent 16 years in the Legislature pursuing a "very partisan" Democratic agenda.

Brown is proud of the role she played as Senate minority leader in helping the Democrats to eventually win enough seats to control the chamber. "I led my caucus from a 10-20 deficit to an 18-12 majority," she says.

But the Portland lawmaker said she's been able to work across party lines to help pass state budgets in good times and bad, and in winning approval of laws making Oregon's campaign finance system more open and cracking down on fraud and abuse in Oregon's initiative petition system.

"What I'm saying is that I'm the one who has the experience to do the job," she said.

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