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Merkley Survives Sen Primary

Oregon State House Speaker Jeff Merkley narrowly squeaked by a Portland attorney and activist in the race to face Republican incumbent Senator Gordon Smith last night. In a primary that left both candidates lurching to the left, Merkley, the favorite of most of the party establishment, won by wide margins in most of the state's counties to overcome attorney Steve Novick's big lead in Portland-based Multnomah County.

With 85% of the vote counted, Merkley had 45% to Novick's 41%, and realtor Candy Neville took 7%. The Associated Press and others have called the race for Merkley, who won all but four out of the state's thirty two counties and every metropolitan area save the state's largest city and Corvallis, where Oregon State University is based.

Merkley will now face Smith in November, a tough and well-funded opponent who knows that 2008 is going to be a difficult year for his Republican Party. Therefore, Smith is taking no chances, and don't be surprised if ads begin hitting the airwaves defining Merkley as the product of a liberal legislature. Given his heavy ad spending in the last several weeks of the primary, Merkley finds his warchest depleted, a disparity national Democrats have tried to mitigate by running ads slamming Smith.

In the state's other hot race, businessman and 2006 nominee Mike Erickson beat out two-time gubernatorial nominee Kevin Mannix in the race for the Republican nomination in the state's open Fifth District. Erickson took 50% to Mannix's 44%. The Republican contest turned nasty in the final week as Mannix dropped a mail piece accusing Erickson of paying for an abortion, a charge that some suggested would likely backfire on its source.

On the Democratic side, State Senator Kurt Schrader easily outpaced his nearest rival, Steve Marks, who served as the top aide to a popular former governor, by a 54%-18% margin and will carry the mantle in the race to replace retiring Democratic Rep. Darlene Hooley. The district, which takes in some southern Portland suburbs and stretches from the Cascades to the coast, scooping up state capitol Salem on the way, is marginal, and Hooley won by small enough amounts to guarantee her a spot on the GOP target list.

National Democrats had favored Schrader, but this contest, in a district President Bush won narrowly twice, is likely going to be one on which national Democrats have to spend money. Erickson has already poured more than $2.1 million into his two bids, while Schrader raised just over $100,000 between filing on March 7 and the end of the reporting period in Oregon, April 30.

In other Oregon election news, Portland selected its first openly gay mayor, as Sam Adams took 58% of the vote, beating a dozen other candidates, the closest being businessman Sho Dozono, who took 34%. Adams is a city councilmember and had served as the top aide to the highly popular former mayor, Vera Katz, the Oregonian reports this morning. Katz stepped down after three terms when she was diagnosed with cancer, though four years later she remains a volunteer at a Portland-area literacy program.