The Campaign Spot

What’s Wrong With Oregon Republicans?

Also in today’s Jolt:

Another Un-charismatic, Underachieving Partisan Democrat Coasts to Reelection

I know what you want to hear. You want to hear that Republican Monica Wehby has a shot at winning Oregon’s Senate race.

She’s trailing most polls by 10 to 20 points, so . . . sorry, no good news here.

You may ask, “What’s wrong with Oregonians?” Maybe a fair question is, “What’s wrong with Oregon Republicans?”

A pediatric neurosurgeon and mother of four, she appealed to moderate Republicans fed up with Obamacare and big government.

But polls now put Wehby behind by 10 to 15 percentage points.

A poll released last week showed only 52 percent of Republicans plan to vote for Wehby, while 22 percent said they’re still undecided.

The talk of a potential GOP upset here in Oregon earlier in the year wasn’t just hype; incumbent Democratic senator Jeff Merkley has genuinely “blah” numbers for a guy asking for another term. The percentage of Oregon voters who approve of the job he’s doing is usually in the low 40s, and the percentage who disapprove is in the mid-30s. He has mind-bogglingly low name ID for an incumbent U.S. senator; as noted yesterday, “Senator Merkley was recognized by 46 percent as his party’s candidate.” It’s as if he’s been in the Witness Protection Program.

Merkley is not a whirling dervish of raw political charisma, nor an unstoppable vote-accumulating machine. In 2008, Barack Obama received 1,037,291 votes in Oregon — 56.7 percent of the vote. That year, in his first statewide bid, Merkley won 864,392 votes, or 48.9 percent of the vote — 3.4 percent more than the incumbent Republican senator he beat, Gordon Smith. He underperformed the margin projected in most of the final polls.

Back in July, George Will wrote a column that made Republicans’ hearts skip a beat, declaring, “Senator Tom Coburn is retiring, but another doctor may be coming, straight from the operating room to her first elected office.”

The editorial board of the Oregonian, the state’s largest newspaper, chose to not endorse a candidate this year. They concluded Merkley was a shameless partisan hack, and then detailed the personal scandals in Wehby’s past years that made them deem her unworthy of support:

The collapse of Wehby’s campaign has been almost painful to watch. First was the late-breaking revelation this spring of a 911 call made in 2013 by estranged boyfriend Andrew Miller, who reached for the phone as Wehby entered his house without permission. He accused her of stalking him. Shortly thereafter, Oregonians learned that Wehby’s ex-husband had called the cops on her in 2009. According to a police report filed two years earlier, her ex accused her of “ongoing harassment.”

The incidents raise obvious questions about judgment and self-control, but just as significant are questions about anticipation. Did Wehby and her campaign really think these episodes wouldn’t come to light? If so, they were shockingly naïve.

Oregonians don’t expect such shocking and unnerving revelations from a potential senator. They expect it from their state’s first lady.

A lesson: In the lazy Democrat media’s template, every Republican is either dumb, evil, or old. Because they can’t portray a pediatric neurosurgeon as dumb, they’ll paint her as evil or a variant of it, crazy. Because we all know how ruthless and black-hearted those pediatric neurosurgeons are, right?

So what should we expect in November? Recent history suggests flawed Democratic candidates can coast along, relying on the Oregonians’ voting habits’ being set on autopilot — particularly in the state’s most populous counties.

Yesterday we discussed how it’s difficult, and perhaps impossible, for a Republican to win statewide in Oregon when they’re getting blown out in the state’s largest city, Portland. It’s not that Republicans need to win the land of microbrews, mustaches, fig-and-gorgonzola pastries, and a general hipster culture that’s convinced it’s still the counterculture no matter how widespread and popular it gets. But a winning GOP candidate would need to keep the margin manageable so the Republican margins in the rest of the heavily rural state could put him or her over the top.

Four years ago, in the previous midterm of the Obama era, longtime incumbent Ron Wyden ran for reelection. He was challenged by Jim Huffman, law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland. While his fellow Republican Chris Dudley came within 1.5 percent in the governor’s race, Huffman lost by 18 percentage points.

In 2010, Democrat John Kitzhaber won 198,157 votes here to Dudley’s 76,915 in Multnomah County, which includes Portland. That year, Wyden won 212,371 votes to Huffman’s 56,513 — an even more lopsided 76 percent to 20 percent margin. (And Huffman lived and worked in Portland!)

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