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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

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