Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren is bringing her name and fundraising prowess to Oregon next week to help her fellow Democrat, Jeff Merkley. Politico Playbook reports:
Elizabeth Warren heading to Oregon to help Sen. Jeff Merkley fend off an unexpectedly tough challenge: The senator is flying to Portland next Wednesday for a "grassroots fundraiser." Republicans nominated pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby in Tuesday's primary, who they think can put the state on the map. Democrats have sent Andrew Zucker to be Merkley's deputy campaign manager, reassigning him from Louisiana - where he's been assisting Sen. Mary Landrieu's reelect. He ran communications for Ed Markey in the Massachusetts special election last June to fill the seat opened by John Kerry's elevation to State.
Merkley appears weaker than expected for reelection. One recent NPR poll found a third of registered voters in Oregon had no opinion or did not know of him, while other polls showed him below 50 percent support. The new Republican nominee, Monica Wehby, is considered even by GOP strategists to be a dark horse to win. Oregon remains a strongly Democratic state, but two factors give Republicans some hope in pulling off a surprise win.
The first is that Merkley might be considered an "accidental" senator. In 2008, incumbent Republican Gordon Smith had a moderately conservative record with some libertarian tendencies, but his party affiliation cost him in a year dominated by George W. Bush fatigue and high Democratic turnout to support Barack Obama for president. Still, Merkley, then the speaker of the state house, only beat Smith by three percentage points. Merkley was also didn't win a majority, winning just under 49 percent of the vote. Oregon may look and feel like a Democratic lock, but in 2008, that Senate race was one of the most watched and competitive of the cycle.
The second is that the politics of Obamacare in Oregon do not favor anyone who supports it. The implementation of the law has been a disaster, with the state-run health insurance exchange having so many problems that the program's been shut down and rolled into the federal exchange. (The FBI has been investigating the exchange, called Cover Oregon, for malfeasance, and just yesterday the state's U.S. attorney subpoenaed records from Cover Oregon.) Merkley voted for Obamacare in 2010 and continues to support the law, saying as recently as this month that it has "a lot that's going right in Oregon." As a medical doctor and former board member at the American Medical Association, Wehby has an added benefit of authority on the subject of health care, which may dominate the campaign.
That's not to say Wehby doesn't have an uphill battle to victory. In addition to being a Republican in a blue state, she's also a first-time candidate experiencing some of the problems political neophytes face. Even before she won her primary handily this week, reports were already surfacing in local and national news outlets about incidents with an ex-husband and an ex-boyfriend for which the police were called, though no charges were ever filed in what appear to be overheated domestic disputes. The police report leaks were revealed to be from Democrats with loose ties to Merkley (although Merkley himself denies knowing about them). That, along with Elizabeth Warren's visit and new staffing in the Merkley campaign show Democrats are a little worried about losing what was once considered a safe seat. These reports, nevertheless, show Wehby will need to run a near flawless campaign from now on in order to win. Democrats aren't going to give up an Oregon seat that easy.