Jeff Merkley will decide by July 31

The Oregonian reports that Jeff Merkley, Oregon's Speaker of the House, will decide by July 31 whether to enter the US Senate race against Gordon Smith.

For Merkley, the decision won't come down to campaign money or political considerations. Rather, the decision will be about what's best for his family - and what's best for Oregon:

Merkley said financial backing from the national committee won't be the main factor as he makes up his mind.

"The decision will hinge on family and the importance of this election to Oregonians and to our nation," Merkley said. Another big factor is whether he wants to give up his influential position as speaker to run against an entrenched incumbent. ...

"A campaign is tough on family," Merkley said. "I have small children. So we're having lots of discussions in the family as to whether this makes sense."

Of course, he's already articulating the case against Gordon Smith:

"I recognize that Smith is gracious, but he has stood on the wrong side of any number of important policy debates in this nation," Merkley said.


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    "Another big factor is whether he wants to give up his influential position as speaker to run against an entrenched incumbent. ..."

    Getting ahead of himself, maybe? There's still a primary to win...

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    TJ- How's that getting ahead of anything? It stands to reason that wanting to win the primary is prerequisite to entering the race.

  • Sam Hensel (unverified)

    I really hope he runs. Gordon Smith may not be on the top of my list of senators that must go (the top spots go to James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell), but he's been a nuisance long enough. I don't live in Oregon and I'm not an expert on Oregon politics, but I know a fair amount about Speaker Merkley. He's right on the issues as far as I know, he'd do a good job, and he can beat Smith. I wish DeFazio ran, however. I like him a lot.

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    >wanting to win the primary is prerequisite to entering the race

    I think what TJ was saying was not that Merkley didn't want to win the primary (of course he does), but that it is not at all a certainty that he actually would.

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    Stephanie, yeah of course that's what he was trying to say. But Merkley's quote doesn't support TJ's point at all. Of course, it's all ticky-tack stuff anyway and posturing…don't even know why I bothered to comment.

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    And no, it's not true that "of course" Merkley wants to win the primary. The whole premise of this discussion is that he's not sure whether it's worth giving up his current gig to face an entrenched incumbent. The way to avoid facing an entrenched incumbent is…not winning the primary.

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    The important point here is that political junkies (like me) spend all of our time trying to figure out IF and HOW to win a political campaign.

    But the kind of person that should be a US Senator is going to have a bunch of other questions that come first:

    • Why do I want to be a US Senator? What would be my policy goals?

    • Can I achieve my policy goals in other ways, including keeping my current job?

    • If I run for the US Senate - win or lose - I have to give up my current job. Is it worth the risk?

    • The Karl Rove Smear Machine will be digging through my trash, talking to people I knew 30 years ago, and making life miserable for my family. Is it worth it?

    This is an intensely personal decision. To put it in terms that noncandidates can understand: Imagine that in order to even apply for a new job, you had to give notice at your old job (and you can't keep it even if you don't get hired), you have to spend over a year working 18-hour-days on your application, and it's likely that everything you've ever done that you're not proud of (and even some things that you haven't actually done) is likely to be the subject of a white-hot $10 million advertising campaign. You still want that new job?

    I don't envy Jeff's decision. And I don't begrudge anyone, like Earl Blumenauer or Peter DeFazio, that decides that it just ain't worth it.

    I hope Merkley runs; he'd make an incredible US Senator. But I won't be surprised if he decides against it. After all, he's a pretty incredible Speaker of the House.

    (Full disclosure: I built, but I haven't spoken to him at all about the Senate race and I speak only for myself.)

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    I want him in. Among everybody who has not said no and who has a lick of electoral experience, Merkeley is probably top of the pile. Democrats deserve to make a challenged choice based on the strongest field of candidates. Steve probably doesn't want to have to go insurgent vs establishment, but Jeff's entry might force him that way to some extent. I think we know who would get the support from the home office, but that's been the likely scenario unless just about everybody said no.

    I can see why he'd decide not to, though. The landscape of open Republican seats is pretty tasty, and he's got a decent shot at running a house of 36 votes. After this past session, you gotta be thinking about that on your personal list of accomplishments. And Jeff also may be considering how rough he wants to play, and whether it's worth it.

    I selfishly hope he doesn't run, because if he and Brown bag then IMO the guy I like the best actually becomes the frontrunner for real. But the best thing for Oregon is to have Jeff in the race so a real debate about what we want can take place. Think of the debates!

  • Pam (unverified)

    For our sake and his family's sake, I hope he decides he can best serve the people of Oregon as Speaker of the House. The recently completed legislative session shows me that a hard working, effective legislature can make a huge difference in the quality of life in this state. Jeff can make a much larger impact here than he could as a freshman senator in the us senate (where let's face it seniority rules anyway). While I think Jeff would be a better vote than Smith on many issues, it would take him quite a while to get enough seniority to rival Smith's ability to make an impact on many other key issues (medicaid, mental health and yes opposition to the war).

    Jeff was a big part of the success in Salem. Let's hope he doesn't leave the job down there unfinished after such a promising start. Personally, I am a Novick supporter. I just don't understand the DSCC's quest to find an alternative to a bright, hard working Oregon original like SN.

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    Just figured out why I'm currently lukewarm to Novick's candidacy.

    I don't understand the early, quasi-entry into the race.

    My first experience of Steve Novick as a political actor was a rallying cry published in Willamette Week, and accompanying radio interviews, to generate public support for defeating Gordon Smith.

    It was a strong move, and really helped turn up the volume on the need to defeat Smith - along with lots of blog posts here on BlueOregon. There was some "buzz," and even Smith seemed to go on the defensive - getting tangled up in his position Iraq etc.

    Steve Novick's early announcement of his candidacy, though, muddied the message. It took the focus off Smith, and put it on Novick.

    Novick had created a golden opportunity for himself, and for the state: play a leading role in exposing Smith's shortcomings to the electorate, increasing the odds for any challenger. It would have been good for Novick's career as a political consultant too. It even would have left open the possibility of running for the seat, if better candidates didn't materialize. But instead of staying focused on the process he'd set in the motion, Novick quickly decided to run.

    That would make sense to me, and probably wouldn't stick in my head, if Novick really believed that he was the right guy to take on Smith, and send him packing.

    But in the same breath he used to announce his candidacy, Novick told the public that there might be better challengers out there.

    This is the guy who's a tough-as-nails fighter with a hard left hook?


    If so, it's going to take one hell of a campaign to convince me. I'll be listening, but I'll also be on the lookout for a candidate who exhibits decisiveness and resolve from the moment he or she enters the race, because those will be key ingredients in a successful General Election campaign.

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    Why is it surprising that an intelligent person who has never held elective office would concede that one or more high profile elected officials might be better challengers?

    Sounds more like pragmatism from here.

    We all know that Bill Bradbury was hamstrung six years ago by his failure to declare until after John Kitzhaber had disclosed his own intentions. Why should Steve make the same mistake? Better to launch the campaign on a longer timeline. If any of those "better challengers" had gotten into the race, it's likely Steve would have deferred to them. Since they didn't, he now has the benefit of $200K raised to date, as well as three months of campaigning he would have lost forever if he had waited.

    Bottom line is: looking around, I can truthfully say that there is no available person in the state of Oregon I would rather see replacing Gordon Smith and representing me in the US Senate than Steve Novick. For me, that's what it boils down to. As always, YMMV.

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    I agree with Stephanie V. It was smart for Steve to get in early -- and his declaration that he'd get out for a statewide leader was smart: it gave people permission to support him, without having to hear the "I'm waiting for so-and-so" excuse.

    Steve's entry into the race has meant that the media and public has started to consider the case against Smith. That's a good thing.

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    I'm backing the candidate who doesn't have to think about it. He's running! I support Steve Novick.

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    Stephanie, I have to admit I wasn't paying close attention back in '92, so I only know that story from the retelling.

    Kari, the thing that got my attention, and seemed to capture pretty broad attention in the media, was not Steve Novick's entry into the race - it was his sharp and detailed assault on Gordon Smith's record before he entered the race.

    At any rate - I'm not here to second-guess campaign strategies. Having identified the reason for my initial lack of enthusiasm, maybe it will be possible for me to "move on" and look at his candidacy with a fresh perspective. I'll give it a shot.

  • John B (unverified)

    What is best for Oregon is for the Speaker to...well be the speaker. He has a job and he has no business abdicating its office until he has accomplished a full run of it. It would be unbecoming for him to leave after one term.

    Someone once wrote that we really didn't know whether or not this country would work until that day when Adams first turned over power to Jefferson. The message here in this observation is that we can best understand the integrity of our political system by what lies in its wake. In viewing Speaker Merkley's performance, he has done famously. He pushed forward with an agenda, with a slim lead and divided caucus. But he must stand for an election to demonstrate whether he built a foundation or a house of cards.

    The questions I pose is was your agenda in sync with the people (Will the republic support you)? Essentially the Democrats with Jeff Merkely at the helm took the torch in 2006. I would argue they successfully carried it in 2007. Merkley must continue to carry this torch across the 2008 threshold to demonstrate that it was not an accident. That he was truly leading the people of Oregon, and not the beneficiary of a blue tide.

    In addition, I can't help but feel that being the Nth person asked to run is a bit humiliating and not worthy of the Speaker's contemplation. Jeff Merkley is a brilliant man, and a great leader. He should not submit to a courtship that started with Kitzhaber, Bradbury, DeFazio, Blumenhaur, Westlund, Bates, and god knows who else. Please note these are all worthy men, but at some point you gotta ask yourself..."Do they want me? or do they just want somebody?"

    I think they want a warm body. Novick is (frankly)the right answer. He can hold Smith accountable like no other candidate. Nobody knows policy better than Novick, no one is as quick witted. Novick's problem is that he is an unattractive commodity to big money, who don't like risk. Those interests want something they can understand...a former Governor, the Secretary of State, a Congressman...a Speaker of the House. If the big Demo Machine is not behind Novick then so be it. But I think Oregonians should be choosing our candidate, and not the National Democratic Party. Note, I am not oblivious to the electibility of a well financed candidate. But if "they" really thought Jeff Merkley was the best candidate, why did they wait so long to ask him?

    Merkley should finish his job as Speaker. At least see the D's through an election cycle to validate some of the more contentious votes he took them through on the floor. While an attractive candidate, he will be a lamb to the slaughter. We would be needlessly sacrificing our Speaker. I like our Speaker.

  • Betsy (unverified)

    Although they're both great people, I'm reluctant about both Novick and Merkley. To beat Gordon Smith, a challenger must give voters an exciting alternative -- something they can get energized about.

    Has anyone here seen Novick or Merkley energize a crowd? I sure haven't.

    They are two of the wonkiest figures in Oregon politics. Smart? Absolutely. Heart and values in the right place? You bet. But can they drum up people's excitement about the prospect of new representation in the U.S. Senate? I doubt it.

    Defazio would have been great in this respect. So maybe we shouldn't overlook this guy? Has anyone else here seen Paul Evans speak on the stump? He is absolutely terrific. And his military service in Iraq and Afghanistan gives him the credibility to call Gordo on his War on Terror bullsh*t.

    Anyhow... Novick and Merkley are great. But are these guys really the best we can do?

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    But if "they" really thought Jeff Merkley was the best candidate, why did they wait so long to ask him?

    Good question. But question your premise: How do you know that they waited so long to ask him?

    All we know is when the media reported the story, not when the conversations took place.

    And even if it was later in the spring - after DeFazio and Blumenauer - perhaps it was his performance as Speaker that attracted national attention. What's wrong with that?

    Finally, keep in mind that the recruiters can recruit, but ultimately it's the candidate's name on the ballot - and he's gotta decide he wants to do it.

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    I'm backing the candidate who doesn't have to think about it. He's running! I support Steve Novick.

    I can assure you that Steve Novick is a thoughtful guy, and spent a good long time thinking about it. Just earlier.

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    Has anyone here seen Novick or Merkley energize a crowd? I sure haven't.

    Yes. On both counts.

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    p.s. Paul Evans has already withdrawn, in an email to his friends and supporters.

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    I've never seen Merkley do it, but Novick--definitely.

    Also, Merkley may have waited to open discussions until after the session. But it's true that he, like many, are having to be wooed. While Novick may have "thought about it" as well, he ran not only without prompting but with the likely expectation that the reverse would be true...he'd be encouraged to drop out.

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    Merkeley wasn't especially dynamic on Nick Fish this morning. And I don't think --I sorta drifted-- he mentioned the Smith race he's thinking, I guess, of entering.

    Instead of all the successes of this legislative session, I would've liked to hear more about it's failure to deal with transportation infrstructure funding, for one thing.

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    Instead of all the successes of this legislative session, I would've liked to hear more about it's failure to deal with transportation infrstructure funding, for one thing.

    Huh? Do tell. I wonder what I'm missing.

    After all, the last Lege passed the $100 million transportation infrastructure package known as ConnectOregon I and this Legislature passed ConnectOregon II (HB 2278) which will add another $100 million (pdf)

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    "Because Chuck Schumer wants me to" is not a very convincing reason to undertake a Senate campaign.

    You've got to want it. You've got to want it very badly. It's an utterly hellish prospect and frankly, as much as I like Steve, I sometimes wonder why a smart and rational guy like him would want to put himself through it.

    But he does, unquestionably. That's the factor that will give him the strength to endure all the mudslinging and other nastiness the Republicans will launch at him.

    Bless him for that.

  • Neal Patel (unverified)

    Their is a reason why US House Members like DeFazio or Bluemenaur as well as powerful Democrats in the State Legislature such as Jeff Merkley, Kate Brown and Alan Bates or Ben Westlund. and Statewide Elected officials such as Bill Bradbury or Randall Edwards are refusing to run for the US Senate against Gordon Smith. All of these elected officials have to give up a safe seat in the US Congress or State Legislature- A Democrat is favored to win if the Congressional Seat is open. In order to run against Gordon Smith which is a no garunteed victory for the Democrats. Steve Novick- worked on Tom Bruggere's failed 1996 US Senate campaign. has nothing to lose. If Novick wins. It is a shock and surprise to all parties. If Novick loses by a narrow margin. He'd be a candidate for future statewide office.

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    You've got to want it. You've got to want it very badly. It's an utterly hellish prospect and frankly, as much as I like Steve, I sometimes wonder why a smart and rational guy like him would want to put himself through it.

    <h2>Absolutely correct.</h2>
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