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August 13, 2008

Merkley doesn't have Georgia on his mind

Oregon Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Merkley might want to take a crash-course briefing on the Georgia-Russia conflict.

The Oregon House Speaker was stumped last Saturday when a reporter asked his opinion about “what was going on in Georgia” at a campaign stop — an exchange captured on videotape (via the conservative blog HotAir).

“I haven’t heard what’s going on in Georgia,” Merkley said. When asked about the strategic implications of the situation, he asked the reporter to “fill me in on what’s happening in Georgia.”

When the reporter finally explained that the Russians had invaded the Georgian province of South Ossetia, Merkley finally got a hint.

“The country of Georgia!” Merkley exclaims amid laughter. “I was thinking Atlanta, Jimmy Carter. ... I’ll have to find out the details. I have been on the road the last three days.”

While we wouldn’t expect Merkley to offer an extended discourse on the conflict, it certainly doesn’t bode well for the Democrat’s campaign to be totally caught off-guard on a story that had been leading the news for over a day several days at that point.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Merkley's Republican opponent, Sen. Gordon Smith, highlighting this footage — perhaps in a future campaign ad.

UPDATE: To clarify: News of the Russian invasion of Georgia broke on Friday afternoon; the Merkley event took place Saturday afternoon West Coast time. 

Merkley's campaign spokesman Matt Canter said that Merkley had been barnstorming throughout the state when news of the Georgia-Russia conflict hit, and is now "well-briefed" on the issue.

"Speaker Merkley was doing something that Sen. Smith never, if ever, does, which is traveling around the state speaking about challenges Oregonians face every day when they’re sitting around the kitchen table," said Canter. "Jeff Merkley will bring more national security and foreign policy experience to the US Senate than Gordon Smith ever has."