?If Cruz relies on heart and the power of his story, Dingfelder uses old-fashioned shoe leather, going door to door, as she has for seven years, to meet her constituents and listen to their concerns.
“I really do feel that I truly represent Northeast and now I’d like to represent central Southeast Portland,” says Dingfelder, a petite woman in a tidy Tyrolean jacket, who checks in several times with her twentysomething campaign manager during a one-hour Saturday morning coffee on NE Broadway. Dingfelder has an impressive résumé, from which she quotes liberally. “The Oregon League of Conservation Voters puts out a scorecard,” she says, of the organization on whose board she’s served. “I won Environmental Champion of the Year last year, and I’ve gotten 100 percent every time on my voting record.” She also sits on the board of Planned Parenthood and champions both electronic-waste recycling (House Bill 2626, passed in 2007) and salmon recovery (she’s worked for both the Tualatin River Watershed Council and For the Sake of the Salmon).
Jackie Dingfelder is a model Portland politician. She cycles to work. She works to restore the Willamette River.
Dingfelder, who lives in the Rose City Park neighborhood with her husband, is a model Portland politician: She cycles to work—a point driven home by a campaign flyer photo of her on a mountain bike. She works to restore the Willamette River. Her wish list—tax reform, living-wage jobs, better access for all to health care—is unassailable.
These credentials certainly will resonate with some in the district, but when I tell Dingfelder about Alice Andersen’s assertion that lawmakers care more about wildlife than about people, she is quick to counter: “The environment is not a special interest; it’s a human interest. If we don’t have clean air and clean water, we can’t survive.”
Still, Dingfelder doesn’t necessarily need Anderson’s support to win. Of the 114,000 or so people in District 23, only about 20,000—maybe—will cast a ballot in the primary, according to Bill Lunch, an Oregon State University professor of political science and regular on-air political analyst for OPB. And the issues that Dingfelder champions are precisely the sort that resonate with many voters. People who vote “tend to have higher incomes, be better educated, and are going to tend to care about more abstract issues: the environment or women’s rights,” Lunch notes. “But if you ask a typical citizen what his or her number one concern is, the likely answer is economic problems.”
On the chances of Cruz’s hardscrabble story winning votes by appealing to people like himself—those who are struggling or below the poverty line—Lunch is less than optimistic. “These are not the people who typically show up at the polls,” he says. “To do what Cruz is doing requires getting attention—it’s a huge, if not insurmountable hurdle…. Cruz may have a powerful story, but even the most powerful story has to be communicated to people who aren’t really paying attention.”