You don't often see as hard fought and at times ugly campaign as the one between incumbent U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith and challenger state representative Jeff Merkley. And we'll be glad to see it end - as long as Merkley comes out victorious in the end.
In a word, we think Merkley will better serve the state, focusing on issues like health care, education, the environment and renewable energy. Merkley supports, for example, setting hard targets for renewable energy use and carbon reductions and proposes to fund those initiatives, in part by closing loopholes that let off shore oil companies avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Throughout his campaign and especially in the past few weeks, Smith has painstakingly sought to separate himself from President Bush and has even hinted that he has backing from Barack Obama. But that claim didn't hold up well once Obama appeared in an advertisement supporting Merkley. The truth is that although somewhat more independent than your typical rank-and-file Republican, we just don't see Smith representing the degree of independence he has been touting.
And locally, Smith's silence on the Badlands Wilderness protection effort doesn't help him much in the environmental arena. Smith's ignoring of the Badlands, despite widespread support in Central Oregon, also suggests that he knows who populates his political "base" and that he's not too eager to cross them.
So, we're giving Merkley the nod on this one, but it's a slightly reluctant nod, and that's because we didn't see him stumping in our part of the state as much as we'd like. He's the only candidate seeking to represent Central Oregon that we didn't get an opportunity to sit down with face-to-face. And it's not that we have our feelings hurt or anything, but his lack of face time in Central Oregon just forces us to pause and think that maybe Smith isn't too far off when he says that Merkley doesn't always have an ear for the more rural dry side of the state. All reluctances aside, however, we think Merkley will serve us better than Smith any day.