June 2, 2014 by Thomas Hauber
The W&C Party’s spot-on call of Monica Wehby’s victory over Jason Conger in Oregon’s U.S. Senate Republican primary notwithstanding, reflection reveals nothing particularly mysterious about the outcome.
The facts were pretty organic from the outset. Dr. Wehby appeared to this observer to have the better grasp of the political landscape and the correct strategy for a state whose Republicans are historically moderate. Despite the Oregon Tea Party’s late endorsement, Conger’s candidacy failed to energize the hoped-for Conservative element, a clear victory for the establishment wing of the party.
Before Wehby declared her candidacy, Conger appeared confident the Republican nomination was his for the taking based on his solid legislative experience in the Oregon Senate. Wehby, the outsider, designed her campaign not on the short term securing of the nomination but on an outright presumption she would be facing the Democratic incumbent in November. She appeared to dismiss Conger from the outset dodging Conger’s charges of inexperience and later exploiting Conger’s growing petulance at why more Republicans were not supporting him. Conger’s budget could not afford to match Wehby’s slick TV ads.
Wehby’s campaign was clearly aligned with and financed by the national establishment wing of the GOP, who saw her the best possible choice for defeating Merkeley. By taking the ethical high ground of a physician, she could best oppose Obamacare and exploit the “Cover Oregon” debacle. By downplaying the Conservative hard line on social issues she could attract independents and challenge the liberal Merkeley. Republicans agreed by a margin of 52 to 34%.
The campaign had its share of shenanigans. While Wehby’s “scolding Mom” TV ads were infuriating Conger, Democrats were releasing 911 calls from Wehby’s ex-boyfriend complaining of repeated “stalking” behaviors. Another charge connecting Wehby’s professional testimony in an upcoming child abuse case hinted at medical malpractice, a low blow and too much of a stretch to be taken seriously. Either nobody cared or charges came too late to affect ballots already mailed in. These kinds of lurid charges are standard procedure in today’s campaigns and even the media feels a bit embarrassed while nonetheless feeling compelled to report them.
Nobody seemed to pay much attention to the larger campaign issues either. Republican voter turnout was 44%. In the end, the Oregon primary was little more than beauty contest and that is what Monica won. The same kind of personal attractiveness issues that got Wehby elected, along with her wealthy friends, might just get you elected Student Body President or class valedictorian. The general election is a different ball game, but the talented Wehby is no amateur and Merkeley will have to show Oregon voters his brand of liberalism is still what the majority of Oregonians want.
Jason Conger accused Monica Wehby of being a RINO, Republican In Name Only due to Wehby’s stated moderate positions on Choice and some 2nd Amendment limits. These positions were specifically designed to attract moderate Republicans, but they will not satisfy most Democrats. Based on early W&C surveys, liberals will be much tougher on her, especially women. NARAL Pro-choice Oregon has already issued a “waffle-alert” on Wehby stating: “Monica Wehby is a fox in the hen house and cannot be trusted.” Dr. Mom will have to come clean on a number of issues.
The first look at the general election by 2012’s best state pollster, Public Policy Polling (PPP), gives Democrat incumbent Merkely a 14 point lead 50/36. That early poll just about echoes the Democrat edge in registered voters and will be difficult to overcome in the liberal urban strongholds. Meanwhile Jeff Merkely continues to preach to the choir and tweet to the faithful about climate change, marriage equality, taking on Wall Street, helping Vets and repeating in a softer voice than most college students, “Tuition is too DARN high.”