Sunday, September 21, 2014

Race of the Day- Oregon U.S. Senate

44 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

In the Beaver State, the race for U.S. Senate was initially not supposed to be competitive. Then, suddenly Republicans became very optimistic about being in contention and expanding the national playing field. Later though, the race seemed to fall sharply off the radar after all. Might there be one more swing in momentum before Election Day?

In 2008, Democrat Jeff Merkley capitalized on a strong year for his party in a Presidential election year and closely beat a Republican incumbent, while capturing 49 percent of the vote. A right-wing third party candidate possibly cost the moderate GOP Senator a reelection win. Nonetheless, Merkley was off to the other coast to become a Senator and over the past six years, he has been a reliably liberal vote for his party, although the former State House Speaker has seemed to mostly stay on the "back benches" as a freshman.

Despite the closeness of Merkley's first election, he was considered to be a heavy favorite for reelection. Oregon was a solidly liberal state on social issues and incumbency definitely helps. The incumbent would easily win renomination while five Republicans faced off in a May primary. By far though, the two most serious GOP candidates were conservative State Representative Jason Conger and first time candidate Monica Wehby, a single mother and pediatric neurosurgeon, originally from Tennessee, who entered the race in large part due to her opposition to Obamacare. Her campaign theme has been "Keep Your Doctor, Change Your Senator."

While Conger would have been considered an early favorite, Wehby worked hard on the campaign trail and began to receive national notice in Republican circles. She began to receive some endorsements from prominent conservatives, despite stressing that she was more of a moderate Republican on social issues than Conger. She had began to be looked at as a potentially very electable statewide candidate and was extremely competitive in polls with Merkley. Some powerful campaign ads were run featuring former patients who credited her with saving their lives. The primary was considered to be somewhat of a close battle, but Wehby won by a surprisingly wide margin, capturing almost a majority of the GOP vote. Electability was clearly on the mind of Republican voters.

However, her primary triumph was not without some unwelcome headlines as just days before the voting,  police reports surfaced in which her ex-husband and a more recent ex-boyfriend had accused her of "stalking" and "harassment." A Democrat state party aide had been involved in providing the "opposition research" to the Politico publication. After her primary win, Wehby fought back against what she said were sensationalized allegations and denounced the introduction of her personal matters into the race. The Merkley campaign denied any direct involvement in the plot to potentially damage their strongest competition. The ex-boyfriend, a wealthy businessman would also say that he regretted having called the police on Dr. Wehby and that they remain friends.

Perhaps some sympathy for Wehby and her family helped her more than it hurt in the GOP primary, as it might have been perceived that the Democrats and the media were unfairly attacking her, but since the primary, her campaign has never caught on consistent with the promise she was seen to have as a candidate. The long-term affect of the allegations against her and past personal behavior have likely taken a cumulative negative toll.

While Republicans might have momentum in many Senate races nationally, it is still tough for the party to break through in left-leaning Oregon. Merkley has attacked her for being too far to the right and for the fact that the Koch Brothers have spent money to run ads on her behalf. For her part, Wehby is continuing to play up her social moderation, featuring an ad in which a man who was recently married to another man in Oregon vouches for Wehby and her support for same sex marriage. That type of ad is believed to be a first anywhere in the country, and it remains to be seen whether it might hurt conservative turnout for the GOP nominee.

There have been some other unwelcome headlines for Wehby over the past week, as her campaign has been accused of plagiarism as policy positions on her website, including her signature healthcare issue, seemed to be copied directly from other GOP sources. The candidate scrubbed the passages from her website and blamed a staff member for the error, although confirming it did accurately reflect her positions. Right now, when you click on "Read More" under Health Care on her website, it has a 404 error.

Since the primary, polls have shown Merkley increasing what was once a tight lead over Wehby. If nothing dramatic changes in this race, he is on his way to another term in the Senate. The numbers are not so extreme though that it is totally out of the realm of possibility that Wehby could rebound. However, it looks like it would take a Category Five GOP tsunami at this point.

Republicans cannot be blamed for being excited for a while about Wehby's prospects, but some past personal problems and a somewhat dysfunctional campaign have seriously tampered that enthusiasm. Merkley should consider himself very lucky that he is not in a much closer race at the moment, but Republicans were not expected to be much of a threat in Oregon to begin with.

Wehby campaign we(h)bsite:

Senate races predicted thus far: 11 D (6 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Leans, 1 Tossup), 16 R (7 Safe, 2 Likely, 4 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
Overall predicted thus far: 45 D, 46 R (net Republican gain of 6)


At 10:40 AM, Anonymous Conservative Democrat said...

Merkley should be able to coast 57%-61% of the statewide vote in his reelection to the United States Senate, representing the Beaver State.

GOPers might pick up some down-ballot seats though.


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