Spotlight on Oregon

The spotlight tomorrow – nationally – turns to Oregon, and not just because of that Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton thing. Maybe not mostly, because barring a shocker Obama should put that one away (in Oregon, while losing in Kentucky). That seems not a difficult call; the mass rally Sunday only seemed to put an exclamation point on it.

No, among the serious political watchers, you’ve got two others going on, real posers both.

Yesterday your scribe filled out a punditology entry in the contest run by Blue Oregon’s/Mandate Media’s Kari Chisholm: Pick the winners, and the most nearly correct pundits get bragging rights. (No cash awards in this one.) Most of the questions seemed clear-cut enough; we may have guessed right or wrong, but (recognizing that upsets always do happen) established political equations suggest a reasonably definitive answer in most races. But not two of the biggest.

The Democratic primary for U.S. Senate between House Speaker Jeff Merkley and attorney Steve Novick just denies any easy analysis. After indecisively punching the buttons for each of them several times, we uneasily settled on Merkley on grounds that polling has indicated (softly) an uptick for him, and his advertising seemed to sink in at a critical moment. But two weeks ago we’d have clicked on Novick with less hesitation, and his campaign certainly hasn’t slacked. This is an aggravatingly difficult call; neither win would be remotely surprising.

It has gotten significant national attention. The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza blogged today that “Merkley’s difficulties in the campaign to date should raise questions about whether or not he can topple the likable Smith. . . . [Although:] Assuming Lunsford [a Kentucky Senate candidate] and Merkley win tomorrow, both of these seats will remain on the national radar screen throughout the summer and fall. If either or both fall, it could take two seats off the table in November.” (On the other hand, Novick has so exceeded expectations in bringing this race, once thought to be solidly in Merkley’s command, that how could you so easily write him off for the general if he topples the party favorite and presumed frontrunner?)

The Republican battle in the 5th District is a little different, a collection of drastic shifts, from an of-course presumption that veteran candidate and former legislator Kevin Mannix would take it, to a massive ramp up in ferocious advertising (coming up with truly creative branding of Mannix – as a tax increaser of all things?) by businessman Mike Erickson and polling putting Erickson in a clear lead. And then last week, Mannix’ release of a two-year old e-mail alleging among other things that Erickson had paid for an abortion for a woman with whom he’d had a relationship several years back. There may be a reason Mannix didn’t release it until near the end of a campaign when he appeared to headed down (and why incumbent Democrat Darlene Hooley, who had the mail last cycle, declined to use it): When you set off a bomb, you can’t control where and who the explosion will hit. The weight of opinion by pundits (the Oregonian editorial page, for one) and activists over the last week has seemed to side with Mannix. But the hard truth is that no one will know how this plays until we see the ballot numbers. Our best guess? We suspect Mannix will prevail – that seems to be the feel in the air. But we also think about a long ramble last weekend in rural parts of the 5th, and noticing plenty of Erickson signage and hardly any for Mannix. No result (including a landslide for one or the other) will be a total shock here.

The whole explosive abortion angle has drawn significant national attention to the Oregon 5th too, and for good reason: This is, logically, a highly competitive district. But who will the Republicans present as a nominee? And what condition will they be in?

Much of interest to blog about here, in 24 hours or so . . .

UPDATE The stats on the Oregon pundit community’s prediction – what you might consider the collective wisdom of the group – has been posted.

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