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Oregon: Smith: Oregonians Vote for the Person, Not Party

Sen. Gordon Smith (R), bracing for a tough fight for re-election against state Speaker Jeff Merkley (D), cautioned not to make too much of his state’s recent lurch to the left.

In a brief interview just off the Senate floor late last week, Smith called Oregon “maverick from sun-up to sundown.”

Smith acknowledged the immense popularity of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), and he didn’t dismiss the Democratic takeover of the state House in 2006.

Smith also conceded that President Bush and the Republican Party are particularly unpopular in the Beaver State. But the Senator said he still expects Oregonians to vote the individual over political party in November — at least in his race.

“Don’t misread party affiliation,” he said. “We’re not nearly as focused on party as we are [on] people and their record and what they produce.

“I’ve been very critical of the president, and the management of this war, and my votes have reflected that,” Smith continued. “For me they’re not political votes. When it comes to war, they’re life and death. Those are issues you go to bed with at night, and wake up worrying about.”

Smith said he’s not that familiar with Merkley, who is making his first bid for statewide office. Merkley beat attorney Steve Novick in last week’s Democratic primary, 45 percent to 42 percent.

“I think I’ve met him once,” Smith said. “He’s highly partisan, and from the beginning of his career has produced a tax-happy ideology. That’s all I can tell you.”

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller predicted voters would see things differently come November.

“Gordon Smith has spent the past year trying to cover up his support for Bush and the Washington Republicans’ agenda, but every recent poll showing him in a dead heat shows voters just aren’t buying it,” he said.

Although the battle between Merkley and Novick was at times contentious, Novick late last week was calling for unity.

In an e-mail, Novick thanked supporters and noted that he almost won despite the money spent on behalf of Merkley by the DSCC and the rest of the Democratic establishment. But he also urged his supporters to donate to Merkley and work hard to defeat Smith.

“Jeff Merkley did a great job winning back the State House for us; he was a darned good Speaker, delivering solid victories on issues ranging from payday loan sharking to labor law reform; and he will be a heck of a United States Senator,” Novick wrote. “But we need to help him get there. I encourage all of you to donate to Jeff’s campaign. Yes, the DSCC helped him a lot, and will continue to do so — but they can’t do it all!”

— David M. Drucker

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