Don’t count out GOP for Oregon seat in Senate

February 7, 2014 

When talking about the GOP’s chances of taking the Senate, few prognosticators are talking about Oregon. Oregon — the state that’s gone deep blue? Yes, that one. It might not be as easy a pickup as Louisiana or West Virginia, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

As a connected GOP operative told me, “Oregon has a unique Obamacare catastrophe.” Indeed, the Obamacare sign-up system devised by the state is perhaps the worst of any exchange. The New York Times reported: “In Oregon, officials resorted to processing applications by hand after the exchange, Cover Oregon, failed to work on Oct. 1. People still cannot fully enroll through the exchange website. . . . Governor (John) Kitzhaber, who has ordered an independent investigation into what went wrong, told the Oregonian newspaper that he had been kept ‘entirely outside the loop’ about the exchange’s problems leading up to its debut.” (Note: That’s not a great excuse for a governor up for re-election.)

Incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, is as big an Obamacare cheerleader as anyone, and Republicans are already bludgeoning him with his own promises about the wonders of Obamacare. A GOP poll released in December found that only 33 percent of voters thought Merkley deserved to be re-elected, while 43 percent said it was time for someone new. In 2008, Merkley won by only three percentage points while Obama carried the state by 16 percentage points.

The GOP Senate candidate with the most buzz is Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon who raised $500,000 last year. (She has several challengers for the nomination.) When she announced her candidacy, Wehby put the outsider-vs.-insider theme front and center.

She is pro-choice and supports immigration reform. She is also one of the more personally impressive GOP challengers. She has her own alternative to Obamacare. She stresses her career in health care and has a pitch touting her “pragmatic, problem-solving approach to break through the partisan gridlock and get government working again.”

Wehby is still an underdog in what clearly won’t be the easiest race of 2014, but she may be the dark horse of the midterms. The GOP has practically no chance to win the seat in a normal election year. But, for once, the Republican Party in Oregon may have the right candidate with the right issue running at the right time. Merkley would be foolish to write her off too soon.

Excerpted from washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn

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