The sense that I'm getting from my political friends, except a few of the diehards, is that Oregon's senate race is over. Barring any flagrant fouls, Senator Merkley will defeat Monica Wehby handily.
The far more interesting race, and so far underappreciated, is the gubernatorial campaign between John Kitzhaber and Dennis Richardson. My Democratic friends have lumped the two races together, often talking about the Wehby and Richardson campaigns as if they are the same. They aren't, and I advise against overconfidence. Here are the important differences between the campaigns and the candidates.
First, Dr. Wehby came to this race with no political experience and no name familiarity. By contrast, starting several years ago Representative Richardson meticulously built his mailing list across the state and brought himself to the attention of Oregonians outside of southern Oregon who hadn't yet heard of him.
Second, Dr. Wehby's platform has followed more closely to the tea party ideology than has Mr. Richardson's. Her approach will attract voters in eastern Oregon and parts of Southern Oregon, but is going to fail in Washington and Clackamas Counties, the two battlegrounds that statewide candidates need to capture. Mr. Richardson is not so easily categorized.
Third, Dr. Wehby is running against an incumbent who has made no significant errors. His record in his one term in the Senate is thin, but this is the case for most first-term senators, who don't spealk until their elders speak to them first. She hasn't advanced any compelling reason for Oregon voters to believe that she would be more effective in her first term than Senator Merkley will be in his second.
Mr. Richardson has a more interesting opponent, a physician seeking a fourth term as governor, one of whose major programs was to implement universal health care in Oregon. The Cover Oregon failure needs no retelling here. Its importance is that Mr. Richardson has the advantage of running against an incumbent opponent who tied himself to a specific program and then couldn't implement it on time and on budget. The crash of the Columbia River Crossing, though less tied to the governor, doesn't do Governor Kitzhaber any favors either.
The election is seven weeks away, and a lot can happen in that time. I don't know that Dennis Richardson will defeat Governor Kitzhaber, but I'm confident in saying that the Democrats who treat his campaign and Monica Wehby's as being the same are underestimating him.