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Indecisive Oregonians

Despite candidates who have been stumping across the state for months, Oregon Democrats just can't seem to make up their mind, a poll for the Portland Tribune and KPTV shows. Voters are casting their ballots already, in advance of next week's primary, and while national Democrats have made clear which candidate they want to take on Republican incumbent Gordon Smith in November, the front-runner at the moment is anyone's guess.

The survey, taken by Davis, Hibbitts & Midghall, tested 400 likely primary voters between 5/8-10 for a margin of error of +/- 5%. State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Portland attorney and activist Steve Novick were tested, alongside realtor Candy Neville.

Primary Election Matchup
Novick 29
Merkley 23
Neville 3

With a huge turnout expected, boosted by the long and contentious Democratic presidential primary which will be decided the same day, the 43% of the electorate that remains undecided could break either way. Add to that the fact that Oregon elections are conducted entirely by mail and turnout could approach off-year general election levels.

A separate robo-call poll conducted for a different television station shows Merkley ahead by a 31%-27% margin, though again undecided voters dominate the sample.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which has already run ads in the state slamming Smith for his ties to the Bush Administration, has made clear their preference for Merkley, who has outraised Novick and has what they believe is a larger political base. Through the end of April, Merkley had raised $1.86 million and spent all but $151,000, while Novick had managed to raise just over $1 million and had $65,000 left to spend.

Novick has proven a solid campaigner, and he seems determined not to be shaken loose so easily. More liberal than Merkley, Novick, once overlooked, now finds himself with a significant shot at the nomination. Whichever candidate wins the all-mail primary next Tuesday will have a chance at defeating Smith, thanks to what is likely to be a big DSCC investment in the state. But Smith is used to being targeted. He's already raised nearly $5 million and still has $4.88 million in the bank in preparation for what could be another tough fight.