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August 27, 2008

Georgia now on Merkley's mind

DENVER — Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley has come under fire from a conservative group for mixing up the country of Georgia with the Peach State in response to a reporter’s question about the Russian-Georgian conflict earlier this month.

Freedom’s Watch is sending out robo-calls throughout Oregon and launching a Web ad reminding voters of Merkley’s confusion when asked his thoughts about “what was going on in Georgia” the day after the invasion began.

“When asked about the conflict State Representative Jeff Merkley, a self-described national security analyst, thought he was being asked about Jimmy Carter’s home state,” the robo-call says. “That’s right, this self-proclaimed national security analyst didn’t have a clue what had happened.”

At a DSCC program spotlighting top Senate candidates, I gave Merkley a second chance to answer the question, and he was better prepared this time:

“We should absolutely stand very strong with the Georgian people. We do not want an America in which we are looking at Russian continuously expanding its border. There are many, many states that have great concerns and are having intense dialogues with the G8 and have intense dialogues with the NATO nations. We have to convey our message at the highest levels and this is the sort of diplomacy we should have been doing prior to Russia moving into Georgia but the administration was distracted by Iraq.

We need to recognize, too, is what Georgia shows us is that we absolutely have to have a different energy policy in this country. I’m calling for an end to our dependence to foreign oil.

Merkley, the Oregon House Speaker, is running against Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents. Smith hasn’t yet brought up Merkley’s comments in any paid advertising, instead attacking him for spending millions to refurnish the state House.