PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon has long been written off as irrelevant to this year's presidential election: too young, too labor-friendly, too blue.
But that's a short-sighted take on a complicated place.
A quick scan of results from the last four presidential contests produces a predictable lineup of Democratic victories: Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama. But look closer, and those results aren't as clear-cut as they first appear.
Democrat Bill Clinton won in 1996 by 8 percentage points, in a year when third-party candidate Ross Perot took 9 percent of the vote and Ralph Nader earned 4 percent.
Al Gore slid by on about 1 percent of the 2000 presidential vote — 7,000 voters, or the population of Umatilla. His opponent, George W. Bush, lost to John Kerry in 2004 by just 4 percentage points.
In 2008, Barack Obama became the first presidential candidate in state history to take 1 million votes. So while Obama's 2008 win may make Oregon seem an unfriendly place to Republicans, recent history shows the state trends more conservative — and, at times, libertarian — than it is given credit for nationally.
And the tide that swept Obama into office has weakened since 2008, said Pacific University political science professor Jim Moore.
"This is a state that began to look bluer during the 2000s, but with the 2010 legislative election, it looked more purple," Moore said.
Moore notes that nationally, 2008 drew more than 40 million more voters than did 2010, and Oregon turnout mirrored that trend, though not as drastically: 1.8 million people voted in 2008, and 1.4 million in 2010.
So, Moore asks, is the nation getting more conservative, or are Republicans just better at getting out the vote? This year will be an important yardstick.
"I'm just happy I got it done," said Ali Ryan, as she cast a ballot Tuesday afternoon in downtown Portland, declining to say for whom she voted.
That Obama will win Oregon's seven electoral college votes is a near-certainty, though likely by a smaller margin than his victory here in 2008.
But a number of lower-level races are expected to be close, and Democrats looking to latch onto Obama's coattails include incumbents for secretary of state and labor commissioner, who face tough challenges from well-funded Republicans. In the Legislature, Republicans hope to break a state House tie and end Democrats' control of the Senate.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press