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Oregon: Merkley Makes It Official Against Smith

Democrats finally have a challenger they want to put up against Sen. Gordon Smith (R) — state Speaker Jeff Merkley — who announced Wednesday his entrance into the race.

“I’m running for U.S. Senate because I believe we need to make some big changes in our country. And I believe George Bush and Gordon Smith are leading us in the wrong direction,” Merkley said in a statement.

Merkley is the second Democrat to announce. But Democrats in Oregon and Washington, D.C., do not believe that attorney and longtime Democratic policy adviser Steve Novick, who entered the 2008 Senate race some months back, has what it takes to dislodge Smith.

In Merkley, Democrats believe they finally have a candidate who can win. Merkley, who is described as a prolific fundraiser, led a Democratic takeover of the state House of Representatives in the previous cycle.

“Oregonians are tired of being represented by a Senator who rubber-stamps the Bush agenda,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller said. “Jeff Merkley is an excellent candidate who can run a strong, winning campaign.”

Republicans dismissed Merkley, noting that Democrats were rebuffed by several preferred candidates before the Oregon state Speaker entered the race. Among those Democrats who declined to challenge Smith were Rep. Peter DeFazio and state Treasurer Randall Edwards.

“Good to see the Democrats have finally settled for a candidate,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said. “We would give him a ribbon, but I’m not sure they make one for 7th place.”

— David M. Drucker

Pingree Picks Up Help From Lamont

Failed 2006 Connecticut Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont will campaign for 1st district candidate Chellie Pingree (D) next weekend.

Lamont, a wealthy businessman, used his own money and a groundswell of support from liberal Web-based supporters to defeat Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) in last year’s Democratic primary. Lieberman later won the general election running as an Independent.

Pingree is seeking to replace Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine), who is running for Senate next year. Democrats are favored to hold the Portland- and Augusta-based seat.

On Aug. 12, Lamont will appear at campaign events in Harpswell and Portland with Pingree, a former state Senate Majority Leader and one-time president of Common Cause.

In addition to Pingree, several other Democrats are running, including York County District Attorney Mark Lawrence, former state Senate Majority Leader Michael Brennan and Adam Cote, an Iraq War veteran.

Pingree lost her 2002 bid to unseat Sen. Susan Collins (R), whom Allen is challenging next year.

— Lauren W. Whittington

Doolittle Now Has Two Primary Challengers

Rep. John Doolittle (R) could now face two primary challengers next year if he chooses to run for re-election, as former Doolitte supporter Eric Egland has become the second Republican to enter the GOP primary race in the 4th district.

Egland, a military veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who cut a television ad for Doolittle in the previous cycle in the closing stretch of the Congressman’s close race for re-election, announced this week that he wants the job for himself.

“I will provide ethical leadership based on deeply-held conservative values, a strong interest in local issues, and first-hand experience in our most critical national security issues,” Egland said in a statement, alluding to the fact that Doolittle remains under investigation by the Justice Department for his connection to jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Egland joins Auburn City Councilman Mike Holmes in the Republican primary field. Holmes, a moderate Republican, lost to Doolittle in the 2006 primary.

In the previous cycle, Doolittle beat police administrator Charlie Brown (D) by just three points while garnering a weak 49 percent of the vote — this despite the fact that the suburban Sacramento 4th district is solid GOP territory.

Other Republicans considering a challenge to Doolittle include state Assemblyman Ted Gaines and conservative radio talk-show host Tom Sullivan.

— D.M.D.

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