Republicans are buzzing about their Senate chances in Oregon, a blue state that went strong for President Obama in 2012 and hasn’t elected a Republican to statewide office since 2002. Their excitement has everything to do with Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon who is likely to emerge from the primary Tuesday night to face Sen. Jeff Merkeley in the general election.
And, for the most part, there is good reason for the giddy feelings about Wehby: She’s a single mother of four, has credibility in talking about health care and she can blunt the war on women rhetoric.
But, over the last few days, Wehby’s campaign has been dogged by stories about her personal life that are at the very least a distraction. At worst, the revelations, Politico and The Oregonian have reported that she had a messy divorce several years ago and more recently a break-up with a boyfriend that led to allegations of harassment, could become a burden to a campaign that so far has relied heavily on Wehby’s personal story. One of her campaign ads, for instance, is called “Trust” and it shows her in surgical scrubs and features one of her patients vouching for her integrity.
Wehby has responded to the reports with this:
“Like a lot of women, I’ve gone through a divorce that was a very trying time for me and for my family. I’m deeply saddened that such a personal matter, which bears no relevance to my Senate campaign, has been used as a political weapon to attack my character.”
And her campaign manager, Charlie Pearce went a step further, charging that the the whole matter is not only political, but also sexist:
“It is outrageous that the Democrats would stoop so low as to attack a woman needlessly for her divorce and personal relationships. Ever since the polls showed Dr. Wehby beating Jeff Merkley, the Democrats have been digging up hurtful personal attacks to try and slow her momentum. If Dr. Wehby were a man I doubt her private life would be so needlessly sensationalized. These attacks are despicable and show that the real war on women is being waged by the Democrats.”
Republicans have been slow and mostly ineffective in deflecting the “war on women” rhetoric and Wehby, along with a crop of other GOP women vying for seats this cycle, have so far proven to be good foils for a political storyline that has been damaging to the GOP.
But, Pearce, as well as other Republicans, who suggest that somehow Wehby’s personal life is being aired because she is a woman must not remember Mark Sanford, John Edwards, or any number of male politicians (too numerous to list!), who have faced similar scrutiny over their messy personal lives. Surely, if a man had been accused of harassing and ex-wife or ex-girlfriend, it would also be news.
Wehby has smartly cast herself as an “everywoman,” suggesting what lots of people know–divorces and relationships can be messy things. At this point, the real danger is probably for Democrats, who have to tread lightly on this issue. Alex Youn, Merkley’s campaign manager, sent out a memo Tuesday to reporters on the GOP primary field and notably said nary a word about Wehby’s personal issues, suggesting that they very well know that steering clear of this issue is good political strategy.