The GOP Race for a Senate Seat

In just a few weeks, Oregonians will begin to vote for candidates in the May primary. One of the most contentious races this cycle is the Republican primary for U.S. Senate. State Rep. Jason Conger (R-Bend) and Portland physician Monica Wehby are fighting it out for the opportunity to face incumbent Senator Jeff Merkley this fall.

The race has all kinds of drama for inside politicos — from the ongoing battle of a conservative vs. moderate candidate fight in Republican primaries to how the candidates are funded. Of particular interest of late is the Wehby/Andrew Miller of Stimson Lumber romantic relationship and the so-called lack of coordination between Wehby’s campaign and the pro-Wehby superpac funded, in part, by Stimson. All of this drama makes for interesting political gossip among the chattering class in Oregon.

What’s most interesting about this campaign are the issues at the center of ad campaigns, and what’s not being discussed. Wehby, and her superpac, are criticizing Conger for his votes on Cover Oregon, I-5 Bridge funding (which is no longer relevant) and an omnibus budget vote that included funding for the convention center hotel in Portland. Conger’s supporters are going after Wehby for not being conservative enough — particularly on abortion.

The campaigns aren’t talking about marijuana — sure to be one of the key issues in the upcoming general election. Conger, for example, supported in committee the bill that allows for the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries, which have been met with mixed reviews by cities throughout the state. Not long ago, the politics of marijuana use would have dominated this race, but the public perception of marijuana legalization has clearly colored this issue and the lack of airtime it has received.

Also absent are the discussions of issues of true national importance — tax reform, Ukraine, timber harvests and O&C lands. Perhaps these candidates don’t have different approaches to the issues…if they do, the ad campaigns certainly aren’t focused on them.

Primaries are, theoretically, about picking the best candidate to go against the other party’s best candidate for a general election run-off. In reality, they’re a beauty contest for the few die-hard partisan voters who manage to take the time to fill out their ballots. And, all too often, campaigns are focused on the minutiae that matter to those few voters, instead of the ones that will impact all Oregonians.