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Merkley and Johnson

The Oregon Senate campaign overall seems to have developed a more energetic and edgy feel in the last month or so, maybe either reflecting or influencing some of the polling suggesting a tightening in the race. A lot of that has to do with the Gordon Smith campaign, but there’s been an internal change on the other side of the fence, not much publicly noticed in Oregon, that maybe also bears some watching as events unfold.

That is the arrival into the Democratic Jeff Merkley campaign of a new advisor, Paul Johnson. He bears note because of the number and range of state and national campaigns he’s been involved with, over a lot of years. He’s well-connected nationally, and outlets like the Washington Post have made more reference to his hiring than media in Oregon.

Earlier this cycle, he worked on a Democratic Senate campaign in Nebraska for businessman Tony Raimondo, who lost the primary to Scott Kleeb. Raimondo was dissed hard by party activists, some calling him a DINO. Even so, a Nebraska political blog said, “Say what you will about the man, but Paul Johnson knows how to win elections. Most importantly, he knows how to win elections in Nebraska. We’re talking Kerrey ’88, Kerrey ’94, Nelson ’00, Fahey ’01, Fahey ’05, Nelson ’06. If Johnson has joined Raimondo’s campaign – even in a seemingly unofficial capacity – that’s a very big deal.”

Nebraska is just a small piece of Johnson’s background, though. In late 2003/early 2004 he was a presidential campaign manager for Wesley Clark (one of the candidates knocked out early on the Democratic side that year); he also did work for the Walter Mondale campaign in 1984. He led nationally the Democratic Senate campaign committee, in 1996 and 1998. He worked on campaigns for Bob Graham in Florida, Tom Daschle in South Dakota and Mark Pryor in Arkansas.

On basis of resume he qualifies as a bigfoot, though there’s also this in quotes from a CNN profile when he joined the Clark campaign: “I don’t view myself as a great guru who’s going to dispense great thoughts . . . I don’t presume to have any great scheme for this, other than to go in, make an assessment and take things from there. There are a lot of talented people there. They’ve made great progress already.”

Doesn’t sound like a shock-of-electricity type. But there does seem to be a subtly shifting change in attitude in the D.C.-based reportage about the Oregon Senate race, and we’d not be surprised if Johnson’s involvement has something to do with that.

This stands to be a tight, tough race. All the factors matter. Even campaign staff.

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