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Poll: Wehby Leads Merkley in Oregon Senate Race

But is she 'wimping out' of a primary debate?

8:36 AM, May 2, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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A new poll shows Republican Monica Wehby leading incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley for the first time in the race for U.S. Senate in Oregon. The poll, conducted for the Daily Caller by Vox Populi Polling, asked registered voters who they are supporting in the race, with 40 percent saying they'd support Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon and first-time candidate, and another 5 percent saying they are leaning toward voting for her. Merkley, on the other hand, received 39 percent support with 2 percent saying they are leaning toward voting toward him. With those numbers combined, Wehby leads Merkley 45 percent to 41 percent.

Here's more from the Caller:

According to Vox Populi’s Brent Seaborn, the poll shows that “the Senate race in Oregon is very much in play for Republicans.”

The poll also indicates that a plurality of voters in the deep-blue state see Obamacare as a mostly failed venture. Forty-six percent of respondents said Obamacare and Cover Oregon, the state’s disastrously flawed health care exchange, were failures, while 17 percent said they were successes, and 37 percent said they were “somewhere in between.”

Read the full poll results here.

Are the poll's findings believable? Maybe, though at this point it's an outlier, not part of a discernible trend. Merkley, who was first elected in 2008 after narrowly defeating Republican incumbent Gordon Smith, has had weak poll numbers since the beginning of the year. But Oregon remains a deeply Democratic state. Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney there by 12 points, and Democrats hold the governor's mansion, both U.S. Senate seats, 4 of its 5 House seats, and both houses of the state legislature.

Furthermore, Wehby doesn't exactly have the GOP nomination locked up. Her opponent in the May 20 primary is state senator Jason Conger, and while Wehby is much better funded and has the backing of much of the Republican establishment (from a new super PAC to Mitt Romney), she is considered more moderate than Conger and perhaps the GOP primary base. All that seems to explain why she has the support of the establishment, though one poll found Conger performing better than Wehby in the general election against Merkley. 

And Wehby may be hurting herself in the final weeks of the GOP primary by deciding not to participate in the only televised debate with Conger. The Oregonian, whose editorial board endorsed her in the primary, nonetheless has a scathing criticism of Wehby's decision:

Wehby should reconsider, and fast. Wimping out in this fashion will simply call attention to her one significant weakness as a candidate, which is a lack of legislative experience that might make her seem unprepared for elective office. Wehby has a lot to offer, which is why we endorsed her, but a capable candidate in her position should seize opportunities to prove herself to voters, not run from them.

If Wehby doesn’t change course, Republicans should hold onto their ballots and listen to the City Club debate. She does not deserve a free pass.

The Daily Caller poll did not survey voters about Conger or the primary.

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