Not a second time
Last time around, I voted for Gordon Smith. He seemed like a level-headed, moderate guy, and his opponent's campaign was so weak that it didn't speak to me at all. And so I flexed my independence muscles and blackened the circle for old Gordo.
This time around, I was hoping that Steve Novick would get the Democratic nomination to run against Smith, but it went instead to the Salem establishment's candidate, Jeff Merkley. After the primary, I opined that Merkley didn't have a chance -- that not enough voters knew him, he would be badly outspent, and Smith would tout so many achievements from his 12 years in office that Merkley would get lost in the brilliant halo around the incumbent's head.
It hasn't turned out that way. Smith's campaign has turned relentlessly, hauntingly negative, with TV ad after TV ad painting a black hat on his opponent. Jeff Merkley raised taxes. Jeff Merkley cut funding for home care for old people. Jeff Merkley wasted money on furniture for his office. Bad, bad, bad Jeff Merkley. After two full terms in the Senate, this is the best case Smith can make for his re-election? It's kind of creepy.
Today comes word that Smith is punking out of debating Merkley in front of the Portland City Club. And the normally staid club can't contain its outrage:
City Club of Portland is widely recognized for conducting fair, open and carefully formatted political debates. The Club is the most experienced at hosting debates of any forum in Oregon. All candidates appearing at City Club debates are treated equally and with respect. Questions to debaters are asked only by a panel of City Club members and are not allowed from the audience. No audience expressions of support or opposition are permitted. An impartial person is chosen to moderate the debate. Questions are closely timed and are prepared to be balanced and expository."Disappointing and regrettable," indeed. You can tape those labels onto Smith's entire campaign, actually. With few friends among the Republican Party leaders and many political assassins to his far left, Smith needs us folks in the middle to avoid an atrocious upset. Running negative ads all evening long and dissing the City Club aren't going to help.
City Club believes that the race between Sen. Smith and Rep. Merkley deserves full exposure to as many Oregon voters as possible. The City Club's Friday Forum live audience usually exceeds 400 for political debates, reaches more than 15,000 public radio listeners statewide, and is distributed on cable television. As such, City Club finds Sen. Smith's decision to be disappointing and regrettable. Over the many decades that City Club has hosted political debates, it has been highly unusual for a candidate to refuse a Club debate invitation.