Turn on Portland-area TV and, apart from the ubiquitous Ron Saxton ads (we can all repeat them now by heart, one, two. - ) viewers are observing one of the most hardcore pairing of attack ads Oregon has seen in a while - certainly outdoing the ads from the Republican gubernatorial primary.
A few months back, this looked like a quiet, unremarkable congressional race, as the others in Oregon are shaping up to be. (The race in the 4th, between incumbent Democrat Peter DeFazio and Republicam challenger Jim Feldkamp, which started earlier, doesn't look as if it's taking off.) In the 5th, Democrat Darlene Hooley, who has built a solid case out of Clackamas County, has over the last decade consistently won short of landslides but with a solid core in what otherwise looks like a marginally Republican district. She easily put away a skilled and experienced challenger two years ago. And Portland businessman Mike Erickson is less well known - his ads start with the question, "Who is Mike Erickson?" - and started relatively late in the season.
What has changed the dynamic, simply, is money: Erickson is pouring a pile of his own, about $800,000 so far, into the race, essentially to buy radio and TV time. Some of these ads, which start with the "Who is" line, are simply warm backgrounders on how he grew up as a son of a policeman, founded a successful business, and has been giving back to the community. But on the tube you can spot the ads gone negative: Accusing Hooley of missing loads of votes and, it suggests, when she votes, she's just a tool of Democratic leadership. As presented, it's rough stuff.
The Hooley campaign has not sat idle. It has started running counter ads, and they are at least a match for Erickson's. They first dispute the vote-missing data, then blast at controversies from Erickson's past campaigns. They accuse him of faking and forgery and such, and ask: Do you see a pattern?
Not to leave that latter part hanging, we can recommend a piece in the Salem Statesman Journal about the controversies past which gives everyone an airing and, while not completely clearing everything up, does sketch out the situation. For present purposes, we'd say Erickson's level of culpability in these case is a little hard to assess without a much closer look. But we also find completely credible Erickson's reaction, cited in the story, to bringing up the whole thing: "Erickson is nervous about discussing his past political campaigns and tenure as Portland State University student body president and said he almost didn't run for fear that past controversies would be dredged up in this race."
A challenger running against an entrenched incumbent in a year not favorable for his own party is running steeply uphill; what Erickson is carrying as well is some weighty baggage. To what extent will his $800K make the journey easier? (As of June 30, Hooley had $855,980 in cash on hand herself; she's hardly underfunded.) How far will that late money get you?
We'll be back. Only the opening act has come on stage so far.