Monica Wehby’s biggest headache? Antiabortion groups hitting her hard.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby (R) wants to go to the U.S. Senate. But there is a growing wave of antiabortion groups trying to make sure that doesn't happen.


Monica Wehby speaks at a candidate forum in Lake Oswego, Ore. (Jonathan J. Cooper/ AP)

Wehby is a candidate in the Republican primary that will culminate with Tuesday's election. On Thursday, former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum endorsed Wehby's leading opponent, state Rep. Jason Conger, becoming the latest social conservative activist to line up against Wehby in part because of her position on abortion.

The situation is a complication for Wehby during the stretch run of her primary bid. It also speaks to a larger dilemma facing a Republican Party torn between one wing that believes it should moderate its views on social issues to better compete in blue states like Oregon and another that feels doing so flies in the face of the party's core values.

Conger, Santorum said in a statement distributed by his political action committee, "has been a passionate leader in the Oregon House fighting for the unborn."

He's not alone in the community of antiabortion activists weighing in on the race. Groups opposing abortion rights have spent $590,000 opposing Wehby or supporting Conger, according to analysis from the Sunlight Foundation.

The money includes $295,000 from the American Principles Fund, a social conservative super PAC headed up by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor and White House contender Mike Hucakbee, a strict evangelical Christian conservative.

"Pro-abortion Monica Wehby says she won't vote to repeal Obamacare," says an ad from the group. American Principles Fund has booked air time through Monday.

Another $295,000 has come from Oregon Right To Life. The group has run radio ads and distributed mailers, among other things.

Wehby says she personally opposes abortion, but she does not believe the issue is up to the government to decide it for women.

"I believe this is a personal decision between a women and her family, not a woman and the federal government," Wehby said in January, according to the Baker City Herald.

Conger opposes abortions except in cases of rape, incest and to protect the life of the mother.

A poll conducted for NewRepublican.org, a group supporting Wehby, spending nearly $500,000 on her behalf, released a survey Thursday showing her up by 17 percentage points over Conger. Democratic polling conducted last month showed a closer GOP primary race.

Oregon conducts its elections entirely by mail. The state sends ballots to voters, which they can return through next Tuesday.

Many voters return ballots early, so the stretch-run hits against Wehby from social conservatives might be too little, too late to overcome the robust ad spending from Wehby and her allies. Wehby and NewRepublican.org have spent more than $700,000 combined on TV ads. In one emotional ad, a Wehby patient talks about how she helped treat her baby's spinal disorder.

Many Republicans see Wehby as just the kind of candidate the party should be touting right now. She's a doctor and mother, who is from outside government at a time when Americans' faith in the institution has reached record lows.

"Like most Americans, Oregon voters want a fresh, new voice that will bring a real change to Washington," said NewRepublican.org co-founder Alex Castellanos.

Wehby's campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how it thinks the ads from antiabortion groups would affect the outcome of the race.

If Wehby wins the primary, Republicans believe they have an outside chance of competing in November against Sen. Jeff Merkley (D). Merkley will be tough to unseat, but if the national climate turns decidedly against Democrats, Republicans say, a wave could sweep him away.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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