Arguably the closest and most contentious race on the Oregon ballot this year is for U.S. Senate, with Republican incumbent Gordon Smith against Democrat Jeff Merkley. Smith, from Pendleton, is seeking his third term in the Senate. Some of his supporters argue that he’s a moderate Republican who isn’t afraid to go up against the GOP. Jeff Merkley is speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. Before getting into politics Merkley worked with Habitat for Humanity. He is originally from Myrtle Creek and now lives in eastern Multnomah County.
A new poll released by Riley Research Associates shows this race to be neck-and-neck with 35 percent of likely voters behind Smith and 36 percent supporting Merkley. Twenty-five percent of the people surveyed are still undecided. The race is so tight it’s being watched nationally (including articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post) as one of the few Republican seats that could turn Democratic.
It is also a particularly negative race. The candidates have only done two debates — one in Portland and one a few days later in Medford. But mostly their campaigns have been waged in increasingly nasty TV ads. (You can check our hour-long discussion about those, and other political ads right here.) Smith has portrayed Merkley as concerned only in the interests of Portland and says Merkley is “more of the same when it is time for change.” Merkley, meanwhile, has called Smith a “special interest senator” who is running a broken and sleazy campaign.
Are you among the 25 percent of registered voters who still haven’t made up your mind about the race? What are hoping to hear — from Merkley or Smith — that will get you off the fence?