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September 18, 2008

Oregon Race Is A Toss-Up

Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has won two statewide elections as a Republican in a Democratic state. But this year, re-election could be more difficult, given how much the tide has turned against Republicans since 2002, especially in a state that has trended as blue as Oregon.

A new poll, conducted by Portland-based Davis Hibbitts & Midghall Inc., shows Smith and his Democratic opponent in a dead heat. The poll surveyed 500 registered voters between 9/11-14 for the Portland Tribune and KPTV, the city's Fox affiliate, for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Smith, State House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Constitution Party nominee Dave Brownlow were tested.

General Election Matchup

Those results are in line with a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poll released last week that showed Smith leading by two points and similarly mired in the low 40s. Republicans have yet to release a poll showing Smith with a better lead.

Merkley faced a difficult primary, sapping his coffers, but the DSCC has poured resources into the state in an effort to make up for Smith's sizeable financial advantage. The party spent $3.7 million on independent expenditures in Oregon through the end of August, though that figure does not include coordinated expenditures made with Merkley's campaign or any ads that have run in September.

Smith will also have a problem with the top of the ticket. In an interview in his Washington office last week, National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman John Ensign admitted that Oregon is the one place in which Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama could aid his down-ballot counterparts. "In places like Oregon, [Obama] makes it tougher for Gordon Smith," Ensign said. "But Gordon Smith is a terrific candidate."

Smith has led most polls by a slim margin, but if he doesn't get out of the low-40% range, he could have real trouble. Undecided voters frequently break away from incumbent candidates.