Now Playing:



Gov. Kulongoski Makes Early Pick In U.S. Senate Race

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski injected himself into the contested Democratic primary for U.S. Senate Monday.

The governor endorsed Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley over political activist Steve Novick.  Colin Fogarty reports.

It's unusual for a governor to issue an endorsement in a contested primary election race.  But it's not unheard of.

Six years ago, former Governor John Kitzhaber endorsed Ted Kulongoski in a contested primary for Governor.  That endorsement helped Kulongoski get elected Governor in 2002.

Now, Kulongoski is doing the same for Jeff Merkley, the Speaker of the Oregon House who is running for the U.S. Senate.

Merkley's campaign manager is  Jon Isaacs. He says Kulongoski and former Governor Barbara Roberts will co-chair  the Speaker's effort to unseat Republican Senator Gordon Smith in 2008.

Jon Isaac: "It certainly helps with all aspects of building a campaign organization.  Part of that is raising money to build a campaign.  But the other part of that is building a grassroots organization.  Building a network across the state.  And having Governor Kulongoski and former Governor Roberts as the co-chairs of the campaign certainly helps with building our organization."

The endorsements could give Merkley's campaign an aura of inevitability among some Democrats.  But Merkley does face a serious opponent in the Democratic primary.

Political activist Steve Novick describes himself as the underdog.  But he appears undaunted by Merkley's new endorsements.

Steve Novick:  "When you're the underdog candidate running against the insiders' candidate, you expect a lot of the big names to go for the insider.  But that doesn't change the fact that the governor and I have high regard for each other.  And I know that after I win the primary, I will have his full support against Gordon Smith next year."

Novick says he can tick off a list of big name endorsements that didn't lead to victory at the polls.  For example, former Vice President Al Gore endorsed Howard Dean for President.

Pacific University political analyst Jim Moore says Merkley's  endorsements are aimed not so much at voters at large, but at potential donors.

Jim Moore:  "This will dovetail very well with national efforts.  Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senator from New York, is really pushing to get good quality candidates to take on Republican Senators across the country.  So national money will realize that this is happening as well as state of Oregon money."

But whether donors come from Oregon or across the country, they're being hit up earlier than in previous campaigns.  Moore says this early endorsement by Kulongoski and Barbara Roberts is  a sign of how the political campaign schedule has moved up.

Jim Moore: "I think it's because the presidential race has started so early.  It's having a trickle down effect across the country.  It's as if the Democrats are treating the Smith race, as well as other races around the country, almost as open seats."

Even though Merkley's campaign is gearing up, it's not yet in high gear.  The candidate wasn't available for an interview because he's taking one last vacation before an official campaign kick off a few weeks from now.

More News

More OPB