PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Monica Wehby won the highly contested GOP primary for the US Senate and will face incumbent Jeff Merkley in the November election.
Wehby defeated four opponents. The toughest challenge came from state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, who was the early front-runner but struggled to raise money and attention after Wehby entered the race last year.
Wehby has excited Republicans in Washington, D.C., who hope she’s the perfect candidate to attack President Barack Obama’s health care law without the sort of gaffes that Democrats have used to portray the GOP as out of touch with women.
The rollout of Obama’s health care law was disastrous in Oregon, where senior officials enthusiastically embraced it but spent millions on a failed enrollment website.
Merkley, a first-term Democrat running for re-election, easily defeated challengers William Bryk and Pavel Goberman.
Late in the race, police reports surfaced showing two former companions called police as their relationships were deteriorating and said Wehby had harassed them. The boyfriend, timber-company executive Andrew Miller, later helped fund a super PAC attacking Conger. He said his accusations to police were exaggerated, and he regretted them.
No charges were filed in either incident.
Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, Wehby said everyone makes mistakes, but like a lot of Oregonians she’s a working mother, balancing a career with raising children.
“I do have a message for those national Democrats who are willing to shred my family for their own political gain: People are tired of your dirty tricks,” Wehby said. “We all know that the best way to defeat a bully is to stand up to him, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”
Wehby, 51, has kept her focus on the general election, portraying herself as a political outsider. She largely ignored her Republican rivals and instead attacked “Obamacare” and Sen. Jeff Merkley. She’s staked out moderate positions on social issues — she says the federal government shouldn’t get involved in abortion or gay marriage — and says her background as a doctor gives her the expertise to fight the federal health care law.
Wehby will face an uphill climb against Merkley, a first-term Democrat who narrowly defeated a Republican incumbent in 2008. The Democratic Party has an 8-point edge in voter registration and Republicans have struggled for two decades to win statewide elections. While strong in rural areas, the GOP gets hammered in liberal Portland and has watched its influence erode in the city’s suburbs in recent years.
If Republicans can put Merkley’s seat into play, however, it would boost their efforts to rack up a net gain of six seats and reclaim control of the Senate.
“There’s a clear choice in the race for Senate between Monica Wehby, who will vote with national Republicans against Oregon’s priorities, and Jeff Merkley, who fights for Oregon and puts Oregon first,” Merkley campaign manager Alex Youn said in a statement.
Conger, 45, ran to Wehby’s right. He said her stands on social issues are out of step with the Republican Party and pitched his experience winning elections in a Democratic district.
Conger emphasized his biography, overcoming a hardscrabble childhood to graduate from law school. “From homeless to Harvard,” read the slogan on his campaign literature.
Big donors were key players in the race, nearly matching the candidates’ own spending with about $1 million in independent expenditures. Three super PACs and a traditional political action committee paid for television, radio and Internet advertisements, as well as mail and billboards, supporting both Wehby and Conger.
Also in the race were Mark Callahan, a Salem information-technology consultant; Tim Crowley, a Portland lawyer; and Joe Rae Perkins, a former financial planner from Albany.