About six months ago, when Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley entered the race for the U.S. Senate, his prospects as an opponent to Republican Senator Gordon Smith were uncertain, which they still are. But he did seem to be the very likely - maybe just short of prohibitive - Democratic nominee. He was one of the top Democratic leaders in the state, a solid campaigner, aligned on issues with most of the state's Democrats, recruited by national Democrats and with the support of most of the state's Democratic establishment. No one else running or even thinking about it at that point had ever even been elected to any office.
Today - well, who knows? Last week, when he and his chief Democratic rival, Steve Novick (who is a first-time candidate), debated at the Portland City Club, Novick said in his opening statement that while he's been accustomed to and even comfortable with his role as an underdog, he's having a hard time defending that posture now. (Barack Obama said something similar about the time he became a front-runner.) And nobody took particular issue with Novick's characterization. One veteran Oregon politics watcher has told us he thinks Novick will win.
Right now, we'd characterize this race as too close to call. A whole lot will depend on these candidates' end games.
And that's more by way of sense and feel than hard evidence, of which there isn't a lot. (more…)