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Sources Say: It's never too early to speculate about governor's race

State Treasurer Ted WheelerEven though the 2014 Oregon governor’s race is still underway, some Democrats already are wondering who will run in 2018.

That’s because of the news that state Treasurer Ted Wheeler, who is widely thought to be considering a bid then, has to leave office at the end of 2016. That was the surprise ruling from Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who says that because Wheeler was elected to fill the remainder of the late Ben Westlund's term in a 2010 special election before winning a full term in 2012, the Oregon Constitution prevents him from running for a second consecutive full term.

Another potential Democrat who will be out of office in 2018 is Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown, who requested the ruling. She currently is serving the last consecutive term allowed by the Constitution; it expires at the end of 2016. That leaves Wheeler and Brown free to run full time for governor if they choose, although they won’t receive the free publicity that incumbent officeholders can generate.

But Rosenblum would if she is re-elected in 2016 and runs for governor in the middle of her second term. She, Wheeler and Brown all have been mentioned as possible Democratic candidates for governor in 2018.

Just rearrange the chairs

Of course, Wheeler and Brown could always run for each other’s office in 2016. That might sound unusual, but statewide officeholders repeatedly have been elected to other statewide offices in the past.

For example, Secretary of State Mark Hatfield was elected governor in 1958, then U.S. senator in 1966. Secretary of State Tom McCall was elected governor in 1966. State Treasurer Jim Redden was elected attorney general in 1976. Secretary of State Clay Myers was elected state treasurer in 1976. And Secretary of State Barbara Roberts was elected governor in 1990.

Kitzhaber had been governor twice before, but was term limited out in 2003 before being elected again in 2010.

It helps if you’ve already won

But both Wheeler and Brown could run successful campaigns for governor even if they’re out of office.

For example, former State Treasurer Bob Straub had been out of office two years when he was elected governor in 1974. Then again, former Secretary of State Norma Paulus had been out of office two years when she lost to former Portland Mayor Neil Goldschmidt for governor in 1986. She went on to be elected Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1989, however.

Of course, if Wheeler and Brown don’t try to swap offices in 2016, that leaves the field wide open for new candidates to run for state treasurer and secretary of state. There’s a good chance the eventual winners already will hold elective office, however.

Most of Oregon’s current statewide officeholders previously had won at least one other election. Only U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden had never been elected to anything before winning his first race. Rosenblum was appointed to the Oregon Court of Appeals in 2008 and retired in 2011 before being elected attorney general in 2012.