The U.S. Senate race in Oregon may really be about putting Oregon and other blue states into play for the 2016 presidential election.
According to a story published in the Washington Post, Monica Wehby's attempt to unseat Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is a field trial for a different kind of Republican candidate — female, a medical doctor and less strident on flash-point social issues.
National GOP operatives are branding Wehby as an "independent conservative," perhaps as a contrast to the more rough-hewn "maverick" persona projected by former GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Wehby may have trouble with messy break-ups, but you wouldn't catch her shooting moose from a helicopter.
Wehby campaign officials will insist, as they should, their candidate is in the race to win. Her victory in Oregon, they would say, would help to ensure Republicans retake the U.S. Senate and control Congress during the final two years of the Obama presidency.
She is seeking to project an image with a TV ad showing her saving a newborn with spinal problems. Her catch phrase is, "Keep your doctor, change your senator."
However, the race in Oregon is more likely to come down to a battle over Republican and Democratic views on economic policies and social issues. Merkley's campaign will do its best to turn the race into a referendum of national policies. Therein lies the interest in the race at a national level. Can an attractive candidate who can utter comprehensible sentences and hasn't listed to the far-right of the GOP base overcome the built-in constituencies of issues such as pay equity and carbon reduction.
Campaign gurus will be following Oregon's senatorial campaign as they eye the looming 2016 presidential battle in states such as Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia, which Obama turned blue as he headed to the White House.
These states will again be ground zero for candidates seeking their party's nomination for president. There is already a putative Democratic frontrunner in Hillary Clinton, so GOP operatives can project how a Wehby-like candidacy might be leveraged to compete against Clinton. That's both a luxury and an albatross, since no single GOP contender has separated himself or herself from the field yet.
So what was once thought to be pretty much a foregone conclusion has now transformed into a Senate race worth watching, attracting more national attention and political scrutiny.