Kulongoski throws hat back in the ring

SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Monday became the first Democrat to formally file papers for the May 2006 gubernatorial primary, confirming what he has been telling aides for months.

Kulongoski’s commitment to run for re-election could give pause to fellow Democrats who have been talking openly of challenging him.

The low-key election filing – there was no news conference or campaign kickoff event – also allowed Kulongoski to keep the emphasis on his role as the incumbent governor rather than just being another candidate.

"His focus is on being governor. He’s got more than a full-time job doing that," said Peter Bragdon, former chief of staff to Kulongoski and a senior adviser to the Kulongoski campaign.

In August, Kulongoski told a group of state agency heads that he planned to seek re-election, and he has discussed his goals for a second term in various settings since then.

Still, Monday’s filing was a "shot over the bow" of other Democrats who said they might run against Kulongoski – mainly state Sens. Vicki Walker of Eugene and Rick Metsger of Welches, who have both criticized Kulongoski, said political analyst Jim Moore.

"The other Democratic hopefuls have got to put or shut up in the next few weeks. That means raising money, putting together a staff and crafting a strong message to run on," said Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

Walker has said she will announce her plans by the end of the month; Metsger’s announcement is expected within the next day or two. Another Democrat, Lane County Commissioner Peter Sorenson, announced in January that he’s running, but he hasn’t filed yet.

A statewide poll issued last week showed Kulongoski in a virtual tie with former Gov. John Kitzhaber, even though Kitzhaber has said he has no plans at present to run for his old job.

The opinion survey, by Portland pollster Mike Riley, also showed Walker, Metsger and Sorenson in the single digits, which Moore says indicates that their criticism of Kulongoski’s performance as governor isn’t gaining them much traction among Democratic voters.

"They don’t have a message that moves beyond being cranky," the political analyst said. "They are frustrated with Kulongoski, but they are having a hard time putting together a message about what their candidacy is about."

On the Republican side, former state GOP Chairman Kevin Mannix has filed papers to make a second bid for governor next year. Mannix won the 2002 GOP primary but lost the general election to Kulongoski.

Portland lawyer Ron Saxton – who was defeated by Mannix is the 2002 primary – and state Sen. Jason Atkinson of Jacksonville both have said they plan to seek the Republican gubernatorial nomination next May.