Jeff Merkley

MERKLEY CAMPAIGN KICKS OFF

Sure, it's been quasi-official for more than a month, but Jeff Merkley's campaign for US Senate has finally become official, starting with a kick-off rally in Southeast Portland on Monday, September 17.

Flanked by state and local leaders, Merkley gave a speech that hinted at his upcoming campaign—repeatedly pointing out that Republican Senator Gordon Smith has voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time. (In fact, he said the words "Bush-Smith" so often that it sounded like Merkley had changed Smith's name.)

"This campaign is about changing the country," Merkley said after his speech. "It's about the Iraq war, it's about the need for health care, it's about getting out of debt, and about six years of financial mismanagement."

"People are frustrated and people are worried," he added. "And we need a Senate majority that can work with the next president."

Merkley's campaigners are piloting an RV—wrapped in the campaign's artwork—around the state, taking the Portland politician's message to the parts of Oregon that have never heard of him.

Not to be outdone, his rival for the Democratic nomination, Steve Novick, scheduled a party for this Thursday, September 20, to show off his new campaign office at SE 8th and Main. Unlike Merkley's party, though, Novick's promises free food and drinks. That's how you get voters! SCOTT MOORE

HOLY SMOKE

On Tuesday, the Healthy Kids Oregon campaign stumping for Measure 50—a cigarette tax earmarked for kids' health insurance—blasted R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris for spending "$4.5 million on television and radio, potentially the largest media buy in the history of the state of Oregon for a ballot measure." Courtni Dresser, an American Cancer Society spokesperson on loan to the Healthy Kids Oregon campaign, urged supporters to contact the tobacco companies whenever they see the ads—which refer to the tobacco tax as a "blank check" written by "HMOs and health insurers" for their own benefit—and ask them to "butt out of Oregon!" (Get it?)

A spokesperson for the Reject 50 campaign did not return a call for comment by press time. AMY J. RUIZ