April 26, 2014 by Thomas Hauber
With less than a month before Oregon’s May primary the idea Democrats have the Senate seat locked-up is in question. Obamacare is still the main issue and with the troubled “Cover Oregon” exchange officially trashed, two Republican challengers, State Senator Jason Conger and Doctor Monica Weber have emerged as viable challengers to oppose first term Democrat Senator Jeff Merkeley.
Any good campaign strategy is logically tied to the candidate’s assessment of the political landscape and both Republicans found Merkeley’s 49% win (3 ½% or 60,000 votes) in 2008 over incumbent Republican Gordon Smith less than conclusive. Despite the 150, 000 Democratic voter registration edge, Conservative Conger plainly saw Smith’s Democrat support as well as the other 92,000 votes cast by the far-right Constitution party (who saw Smith as a soft Republican waffler) as his. Wehby a moderate, saw potential victory with base Republicans and the same Democrat and Independent support reinforced by women voters attracted to her pro-choice candidacy.
In the early stages of the campaign beauty pageant the perception arose that the moderate Wehby was becoming the more attractive candidate. Her professional image as Doctor Mom the neurosurgeon was generating more early press (and campaign contributions) than Conger’s “Homeless to Harvard” story. The national press began to weigh in when George Will reported Wehby’s “Keep your doctor, change your Senator” was the best campaign slogan ever. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) began low-key but not publically stated support of Wehby. The purging of Ted Cruz from the Committee signaled the Party’s desire to return to the Center. Conger complained of outside meddling in Oregon’s affairs.
A good organic flow was building with Wehby’s campaign reflected in her huge edge in campaign contributions. Harper Polling’s surprised everyone giving Conger a substantial 5-6% better chance of beating Merkeley. The free-for-all began.
Conger started with a curious pre-emptive attack that warned Wehby was about to begin a personal attack. A hastily-formed PAC partially financed by Wehby’s boyfriend obliged by attacking Conger’s record in a scolding and condescending Mom voice. Conger was furious and cried foul claiming illegal PAC coordination with the candidate, a perennial charge against PACs that is rarely substantiated.
Despite the ads the campaign is still dominated by who has been the more consistent opponent to Obamacare. Conger attacked Wehby and the AMA’s reluctant stance on the ACA, taking a hard-core position on its repeal. Wehby has now changed her stance calling for the ACA’s repeal charging Conger voted five times for Oregon’s version, claiming she had opposed the ACA from the start in AMA ads in 2009.
The truth is neither actually voted for the ACA since they were not in the US Senate or House at the time, but that both had shown some support and some opposition to various parts of it.
This is the kind of high-sounding noise that voters have such a hard time getting any clarity on. It’s no wonder the US Supreme Court is hearing a case on whether campaign ads actually have to be true. Any low-rent ad-man would agree on one thing, ads don’t have to tell the truth, they just have to be effective.
It will all begin with the closed Oregon primary where only registered party members may vote for that party’s candidates. Conger is a known Conservative quantity and Wehby may well lose the party faithful by not being far enough Right. The question in 2014 remains: Is Oregon Solid Blue or more Purple?
Democrats hold an even larger present day edge in voter registration of 175,000 votes. If Conger wins the primary, the W&CP believes there is a limit to the appeal of the Conservative position. If Wehby wins, we’ll have a lot more to talk about. Democratic voters, especially women, will ask this question posed by a friend of mine, a pro-choice mom and a healthcare professional. Simply stated: If she a social moderate and such a smart and practical problem-solver, then why is she a Republican?