When talking about the GOP’s chances of taking the Senate, few prognosticators are talking about Oregon. Oregon — the state that’s gone deep blue? Yes, that one. It might not be as easy a pickup as Louisiana or West Virginia, but it shouldn’t be ignored for two reasons.
First, as a connected GOP operative said, “Oregon has a unique Obamacare catastrophe.” Indeed, the Obamacare sign-up system devised by the state is perhaps the worst of any exchange. The New York Times reports, “In Oregon, officials resorted to processing applications by hand after the exchange, Cover Oregon, failed to work on Oct. 1. People still cannot fully enroll through the exchange website . . . Governor Kitzhaber, who has ordered an independent investigation into what went wrong, told The Oregonian newspaper that he had been kept ‘entirely outside the loop’ about the exchange’s problems leading up to its debut.” (That’s not a great excuse for a governor up for reelection.)
The incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley is as big an Obamacare cheerleader as anyone and Republicans are already bludgeoning him with his own promises about the wonders of Obamacare. A GOP poll, for what its worth, released in December 2013 showed only 33 percent of voters thought he deserved reelection while 43 percent said it was time for someone new. (He won by only 3 points in 2008 while Obama carried the state by 16 points.)
The GOP candidate with the most buzz is Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon, who already raised $500,000 last year. (She has several other challengers for the nomination.) When she announced, she put the outsider vs. insider theme front and center. (“I’m not a career politician. I’m a pediatric neurosurgeon and mother of four who is concerned about the future of our country.” She is pro-choice and pro-immigration reform. She is also one of the more personally impressive GOP challengers. She’s got her own Obamacare alternative. She stresses her career in health care and has a pitch touting “a pragmatic, problem-solving approach to break through the partisan gridlock and get government working again.” In some ways, she resembles Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) — the unusual Republican capable of winning in a deep-blue state.
Wehby isn’t in the easiest race of the 2014 and is still a clear underdog, but she may be the dark horse of 2014. The GOP has practically no chance to win the seat in a normal election year. But for once the GOP in Oregon may have the right candidate with the right issue running at the right time. Merkley would be foolish to take her too lightly.