Taken generally, there wasn't a lot of news out of the one televised Oregon Senate primary debate tonight - excepting a reference to a primary winner endorsement (more on that below). But it did offer a few indicators, just a couple of weeks or so out from the start of balloting. (The debate, we should note, was sponsored by KGW-TV and the Oregonian.)
There are four candidates in the Democratic primary; three were present this evening - House Speaker Jeff Merkley, Portland activist Steve Novick and Eugene realtor Candy Neville. Neville presumably was there largely on the strength of a recent poll showing her in a close second place to Novick, with Merkley trailing distantly. That result feels like an outlier, and the larger probability is that Merkley and Novick are in a fairly close race. But Neville's passion for certain subjects, primarily Iraq and veterans, came through as in earlier encounters.
She seemed nervous going in; in the first half of the program her answers were halting, and she blew at least one question (on bringing legislative bacon back to Oregon) completely. But she toughened as she went. Merkley seemed cautious and stiff at first, loosening up as he went. Novick was his usual blunt self and came across effectively throughout (his gift for converting wonkish data into plain speech was fully in evidence), though he seemed to exercise a little more caution tonight than on some earlier occasions when his sharp tongue caused him grief (as on bloggers and some other subjects).
Their issues answers were, overall, strikingly similar. (Just one question seemed to elicit genuinely distinct answers, a query on the proposed Cascade Locks casino: Neville was generally in favor, Novick leaned against, and Merkley wasn't sure).
And there was little attack mode. About halfway through, Merkley brought up some Novick snark against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and others, but that was about the only explicit direct shot fired. (There were some subtle shots back and forth, here and there.)
The most striking moment, though, was a reconciliatory note. A few days back, Novick was quoted after one encounter as suggesting he thought more highly of independent Senate candidate John Frohnmayer than he did of Merkley, that he "would be a better senator than Jeff Merkley" (although he did say he would endorse Merkley if he were the Democratic nominee). The resulting storm among Democrats may have given Novick pause. Tonight, he went somewhat out of his way not only to specifically throw his support to the Democratic nominee but also to encourage Frohnmayer to drop out of the race, and his supporters to back the Democrat. It felt like a sharp pivot, and it's not hard to imagine the reasons.
No great excitement or news. But suggestive of a race that's highly competitive as the final lap approaches.