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Oregon race could spell end of Schumer streak

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080517/ap_on_el_se/oregon_senate_race;_ylt=AgdRB2x.NNoPeVnn5TGF.sxh24cA Oregon race could spell end of Schumer streak By MATTHEW
    Message 1 of 1 , May 17, 2008

      Oregon race could spell end of Schumer streak

      By MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press Writer 2 hours, 33
      minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - As head of the deep-pocketed Democratic
      Senatorial Campaign Commission, New York Sen. Charles
      Schumer hand-picked his party's nominee to take on
      Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith, the last Republican standing
      on the West Coast. But apparently, Schumer forgot to
      inform the state's voters.

      Days before votes are counted in the Oregon primary,
      Schumer's choice — Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley —
      is in a tight battle with Portland lawyer and activist
      Steve Novick. Polls show the race is too close to

      If Novick pulls off the upset, it could be a rare loss
      for Schumer, who acquired a reputation as a
      recruitment kingmaker after steering Democrats back to
      majority control of the Senate in 2006. This year,
      Schumer is working to expand that majority, with some
      Democrats even hoping for a 60-seat, filibuster-proof
      majority in the Senate.

      The DSCC is working overtime to make sure Merkley ekes
      out a win. Schumer, who recruited Merkley after two
      Democrats in the state's congressional delegation
      declined to run, has sent fundraising appeals on
      Merkley's behalf, and the DSCC has spent nearly
      $300,000 on TV ads boosting Merkley.

      All that effort has left Novick puzzled.

      "Why they think Merkley can beat Gordon Smith if they
      have to prop him up to beat me is beyond me," Novick

      Schumer, who typically makes himself available to
      reporters, declined to comment for this story.

      But Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the DSCC, said the
      committee's efforts can be over-interpreted. While the
      DSCC has spent money defending Merkley, it has not
      attacked Novick, he said.

      "The ads we are running respond to Gordon Smith's
      attacks" on Merkley, Miller said. "We came into this
      race after Smith came in."

      Miller and other Democrats in Washington acknowledge
      that the Senate race is closer than expected, but they
      say that whoever wins the party's nomination will give
      Smith trouble in a state that is trending Democratic
      and appears poised to give Barack Obama a solid
      victory in Tuesday's presidential primary.

      "We feel good about our chances in Oregon" in the
      general election, Miller said, in part because of the
      excitement generated by the Democratic presidential

      Democrats say the Senate race is notable for the
      attack ads by Smith, who has spent nearly $500,000 on
      ads blasting Merkley on a variety on fronts, including
      the fact that Merkley raised money for his
      congressional campaign while the state legislature was
      in session. Merkley says he did not take any money
      from people doing business with the state during the
      legislative session.

      "He's trying to pick his opponent," Miller said of
      Smith. "It's pretty clear he doesn't want to run
      against Jeff Merkley in the fall."

      Smith is the only incumbent senator in the country who
      has "meddled in the other side's primary" this year,
      Miller said.

      Smith also declined to comment. R.C. Hammond, a
      spokesman for the campaign, said Smith's ad merely
      responded to an earlier ad by Merkley.

      "Gordon Smith has been attacked online, in press
      releases, in radio interviews and on TV by Democrats
      for well over a year. And Jeff Merkley was the first
      Senate candidate to attack Gordon Smith, and the
      senator's campaign has responded," Hammond said.

      Hammond rejected the idea that Smith prefers to face
      Merkley over Novick, saying Smith is confident against
      either one. "Senator Smith is pointing out Jeff
      Merkley's fundraising hypocrisy and Steve Novick's
      love of taxes and big government programs," Hammond

      Even if Merkley ekes out a win, it is Novick who has
      generated buzz in Oregon and beyond with clever TV
      ads, including one that shows him opening a beer
      bottle with his left hand — which is a metal hook. The
      4-foot-9 Novick was born with multiple physical
      disabilities, but has parlayed a sharp wit into a
      polished strategy that stresses his unique appeal.

      "We think people are looking for something a little
      different. I'm little, and I'm different," he says.

      Merkley, for his part, stresses his progressive
      credentials and accomplishments in the state House,
      where he led Democrats to reclaim the majority in
      2006. He reminds voters that Novick, for all his
      outsider appeal, is a veteran political consultant who
      has worked for some of the most prominent Democrats in
      the state.

      "While Steve has been advising campaigns and taking
      potshots at everybody available, I've been in the
      trenches fighting battles and winning time and time
      again," he said.

      Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts said Novick appears to
      have a slight advantage, but added, "This race is very
      much up in the air." A recent poll by Hibbitts showed
      a whopping 43 percent of voters were undecided.

      The closeness of the race should not be surprising,
      Hibbitts said. While Merkley is considered the
      establishment candidate, neither man is well-known.
      Both started the race with less than 10 percent name
      recognition in the state.

      Even in recent weeks, the Senate race has received
      less attention than usual because so much media and
      voter attention is focused on the presidential

      Still, Hibbitts said the close Democratic contest
      should not give Smith much comfort in a year where
      Democrats appear poised to make gains in both the
      House and Senate.

      "What you are seeing nationally is the same thing we
      are seeing in Oregon: a literal collapse of the
      Republican brand," Hibbitts said, citing last week's
      Democratic victory in a Mississippi House district
      long held by Republicans.

      Whether it's Merkley or Novick, "Democrats have a real
      shot out here," Hibbitts said. "When you have a
      stampede going on, a lot of people get trampled."
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