Hermiston Herald

Wallowa County Commissioner Todd Nash ran away with the Republican primary race for Senate District 29 like a stampede of cattle.

Then again, he is a cattle rancher.

Senate District 29 encompasses all of Umatilla, Morrow, Union, Wallowa, Gilliam, Sherman and Wheeler counties, as well as the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, north Jefferson County, most of Wasco County and a small portion of Clackamas and Marion counties. Across that geographically vast district, Nash had 53.14% of the vote, or 8,712 votes, according to unofficial results updated at 9:45 a.m. on Friday, May 24.

Former Morrow County Commissioner Jim Doherty was second with 24.90%, or 4,082 votes, and Hermiston Mayor Dave Drotzmann third with 20.12%, or 3,298 votes. Andy Huwe, of Enterprise, received 1.73%, or 284 votes.

Drotzmann and Doherty even lost in their own counties to Nash, a Wallowa County commissioner.

He took Umatilla County with 38.41% of ballots cast, or 2,558 votes, 712 votes more than Drotzmann, who finished third behind Doherty. And Nash took Morrow County with 40.35% of the vote, or 554 votes, while Doherty finished third there behind Drotzmann.

Campaigning across that much of Oregon could be a challenge and sometimes meant driving eight hours in a day.

“I had duties as a commissioner. I had duties as a livestock owner, and so I tried to be back every night if I could,” Nash said. “It didn’t always work out, but certainly it had an impact of … not being able to just hop over for lunch or one thing or another.”

Still, Nash said he made an effort to get to every county in the district, and that showed in the outcomes.

“I think it was certainly a goal of ours to win every county,” he said. “And we came very close.”

Building a rapport

In fact, in addition to Umatilla and Morrow counties, Nash won in Jefferson, Union, Wallowa and Wasco counties. Doherty won Gilliam, Sherman and Wheeler counties. (Results from Clackamas and Marion counties still were unavailable as of May 24, but those two counties only have a relative handful of voters in Senate District 29.)

Nash is the past president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association, but he said that role may not have carried much influence in the race.

“I was busy being president until December 2, and that took a lot of time and a lot of time out of the district,” he said. “And so there were times that there were events around the district that I couldn’t go to because I was busy taking care of those duties.”

But he said his work as a county commissioner may have been another matter. Nash said he has positive relationships with county commissioners throughout the district.

“I would like to think that rapport that I’ve established over time and those individuals that I’ve worked with over time, that that was a really positive influence.”

Nash said the large margin of victory was humbling. But receiving more than 80% of the votes in his home county — perhaps a predictable outcome — was something he said can’t be beat.

“You know that I love that,” he said. “I mean, that sounds like that’s a vote of confidence from the people who know you best, right?”

Nash said his campaign strategy leaned into that.

“It was to try to be authentic,” he said. “One, be true to the values that I represent, and what I believe Eastern Oregon represents. And then raise enough money to be competitive.”

Nash enjoyed a significant bump in fundraising during the final weeks of the campaign.

“I didn’t really aggressively try to get any money going back to last fall,” he said. “And then in the final stretch of things, it looked like we needed a little bit more to be competitive. And so we went out and asked for funds again. And donors were especially generous.”

Nash turned to Rebecca Tweed’s Tweed Strategies, a political consulting firm based in Tigard, to manage his campaign. He said he was familiar with her work because she ran successful campaigns for state Sen. Lynn Findley and Rep. Mark Owens, also Eastern Oregon Republicans.

“I didn’t really go shopping far and wide,” Nash said. “The other thing was, she came with a winning record of 104 campaigns and a 94% success rate.”

Nash said this kind of campaign was “very foreign” to him, and he credited Tweed with helping him navigate to the finish line. He also gave credit to the people who supported him and his campaign.

“They put themselves out there with endorsements,” he said. “They put themselves out there with financial contributions. … Going down the stretch, I felt like win, lose or draw, I had won because those individuals that I really wanted support from, they stepped in and did it.”

Money talks — usually

Political science professor Jim Moore at Pacific University in Forest Grove, a longtime observer of Oregon politics, said when analyzing election results, the first thing he looks at is money.

“Quite frankly, Drotzmann raised $183,000 and came in third,” he said. “It was not a good investment. It’s fascinating because Drotzmann didn’t win any of the counties. So then in second place is Nash, who raised $136,000, and then Doherty is at $103,000, and this takes into account everything they raised this year and also last year.”

Drotzmann declined comment on the race when reached on May 22. His campaign consultants could not be reached for comment.

Moore also pointed to an observation from state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, whose retirement from the Legislature opened up the Senate District 29 seat. Hansell noted the voters in Wallowa and Union counties tend to vote in a bloc.

“That’s a brilliant observation from Hansell,” Moore said, and the observation held true in the election: More than half of Nash’s votes — 4,847, or nearly 56% — came from Union and Wallowa counties. Drotzmann’s home county of Umatilla has the most voters in the district, but his third-place finish there wasn’t nearly enough to offset the vote in Union and Wallowa counties.

Nash’s tenure as a county commissioner in Wallowa County may also have helped, Moore said.

“In Wallowa he gets 1,200 more votes than the other two combined,” he said. “That’s where he cleans up … in Wallowa, Nash breaks 80%.”

Doherty may run again

While he finished second this time around, Doherty said he was encouraged by his performance in the primary.

“It was an incredible experience, and I certainly learned a lot — and I think you haven’t seen the last of me,” Doherty said. “I can see myself doing this again.”

Chuck Adams, owner and president of New Media Northwest, the communications and consulting team that represented Doherty, said he believes “Jim was the best candidate based on his experience being a cattleman and longtime leader in the district.”

“I thought we ran a great campaign,” Adams said. “We didn’t have a lot of opposition research on Nash, but we did on Drotzmann. We were probably responsible for disqualifying Drotzmann based on his support for certain taxes.”

Adams said the firm had some polling six weeks before the election that showed Drotzmann, Nash and Doherty in a virtual dead heat.

In the end, Adams said, “Jim outworked his opponents, but factors outside our control created a path for Nash.”

Adams said he has no regrets on any of his firm’s campaign strategy.