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« Dole, Hagan To Face Off | Blog Home Page | Strategy Memo: Grace Under Fire »

Dems Spend In OR Primary

One knock on National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Tom Cole is that the Oklahoma Republican has not gotten involved in key GOP primaries this year to ensure the party has the candidate of their choice when a general election roles around. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman Chuck Schumer is not following that rule, getting directly involved in the race to oust Republican Senator Gordon Smith, of Oregon.

The DSCC has dropped thousands of dollars on an advertisement of unknown content, the Oregonian's Harry Esteve reported yesterday. Schumer's committee has been pushing State House Speaker Jeff Merkley, without officially endorsing his candidacy, though no one has seen the content of the advertisement. The size of the buy is unknown, but the committee plunked down $44,000 on one station in Portland, leading some to believe it will be a sizable purchase statewide.

Merkley is engaged in a tougher-than-expected primary battle with attorney and activist Steve Novick, who has forced Merkley to the left during primary debates and has criticized the establishment choice for votes he took to support the troops (a vote Novick says backed the war in Iraq) and for being, well, the establishment choice. Both candidates are appealing to heavily liberal Democratic primary voters in advance of the May 20 deadline for voters to mail in their ballots.

Neither candidate was the party's top choice, as several potential gorillas, including former Governor Ted Kulongoski and Rep. Peter DeFazio said no to the race. And despite Merkley's position as head of the State House, Novick has won some key endorsements, from both big unions in the state as well as the Portland Oregonian, the state's largest newspaper. He also got attention when top grunge artists from REM, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, the Decemberists and others endorsed his campaign, a big positive in a hipster city like Portland, from which much of the Democratic vote will come.

If either candidate were to knock off Smith, it would probably qualify as the upset of the year. Merkley and Novick have both raised only a fraction of what Smith had on hand, with $1.37 million and $889,000 pulled in, respectively. Through the end of March, Merkley had $473,000 left in the bank while Novick had $197,000 on hand. Smith, who has spent the past year distancing himself as much as possible from the Bush Administration and has a reputation as a moderate Republican, has $5.16 million on hand to start defining his Democratic opponent immediately after the nomination is decided.

But Schumer, to his credit, is not afraid to get involved in a primary, and this isn't the first time he's waded into a contested primary. Schumer effectively shoved several candidates out of the way to make a hole for ex-Governor Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire, and helped push Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez out of the race in New Mexico. Now, in Oregon, national Democrats apparently believe they will be better served with Merkley heading their ticket than with Novick doing so. Perhaps Tom Cole is watching.

Updated: We wrote earlier that the ad specifically backs Merkley. That is not known yet, given that the spot has yet to hit television stations in Oregon. We regret any confusion.