In the past month, Congressmen Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio have announced they won't enter the race to take down Republican Senator Gordon Smith, depleting the first-tier list of candidates for the position.
Democratic political strategist Steve Novick is already in the race, but the departures of Blumenauer and DeFazio from the list have Democrats searching for more candidates. So far, only State Senator Alan Bates has said he may consider running.
The fact that no high-profile Democrats have decided to enter the race has led many observers to believe that the most likely candidate—or candidates—will come from the state legislature. (Smith himself was president of the state senate before running for US Senate.) Since the legislature is still in session, no prominent lawmakers will jump in until the end of June or later—there's an understanding among the legislators that they won't distract from their session work by having one eye on another race.
Plus, state legislators are unlikely to make any public pronouncements in this race until the four Democratic leaders—Speaker of the House Jeff Merkley, House Majority Leader Dave Hunt, Senate President Peter Courtney, and Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown—decide whether they are going to run. Of those, Merkley is considered to be the most likely to challenge Smith (according to insiders, he's had talks with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee [DSCC]), but his office says he's too focused on the legislative session to consider it at the moment. Rumors are also swirling about Brown and State Representative Diane Rosenbaum considering senatorial campaigns.
No matter who runs, the Democratic Party is already capitalizing on Smith's perceived vulnerability.
"When you look at Oregon, you have a senator who's voted with Bush 90 percent of the time," says DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller. "I think it's pretty clear that a vast majority of Oregonians don't want someone whose voting record matches Bush's."
Miller won't comment on who his organization has spoken with, but he's quick to ease concerns about the current lack of a candidate: "We are confident that we're going to have a candidate that the Democratic Party can rally around and will give Gordon Smith the race of his life."
But what about Novick, who's already in the race? Local consultant Kari Chisholm, who runs Mandate Media and BlueOregon.com—where much of the senatorial debate is happening—is optimistic.
"As long as our nominee is a tough fighter with strong progressive values, whether it's Steve Novick or someone else, we're going to beat Gordon Smith."