In an apparent move to dissuade state Sen. Alan Bates from running against U.S. Senator Gordon Smith, the Oregon Republican Party lashed out at the Ashland Democrat on Thursday, painting him as tax-and-spend liberal who is out of touch with voters.
The attack come in a letter that Oregon GOP chairman Vance Day mailed to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic National Senatorial Committee.
Day said while he would welcome Bates to challenge Smith, he said in the letter that Schumer, as the Democrats' chief candidate recruiter, "must dread that possibility."
"It is clear that Bates' record in the state Legislature puts him far out of touch with the mainstream of Oregon voters," Day wrote.
He added, "Sen. Bates has never met a tax increase that he didn't like," voting to put a $700 million tax hike on the ballot in 2002 and supporting a second ballot referral for a $800 million tax increase a year later &
proposals that were both rejected by voters.
Thursday's attack comes as Bates is "seriously considering" a run against Smith, the only Republican U.S. senator on the West Coast and one of four GOP senators targeted by Democratic Senate campaign strategists for 2008.
Expressing interest in the race, Bates said weeks ago that he's been mulling a run against Smith for many months, but did not want to announce his interest prematurely, hoping that "somebody with a better chance and who was better known" would emerge.
Bates said he decided to speak up after U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., announced that, "there is too much work to be done in the House of Representatives to take on a campaign for the U.S. Senate."
Oregon's other Democratic members of Congress have also said they are not interested in challenging Smith; and neither are statewide officeholders, including the governor, state treasurer, the secretary of state, or the state Superintendent of Schools &
"I would be a dark-horse candidate," Bates conceded at the time, "but I do bring some things to the table: I'm a rural Democrat, a 30-year family physician in Southern Oregon, and I volunteered to go to Vietnam."
After reading Day's letter, Bates dismissed the missive as the product of a worried GOP chairman, running offense for a candidate he knows will be targeted by Democrats.
"Here, I'm a guy who is just considering the race, and they come out and attack me like this," Bates said in an interview. "It makes me think that they are a little nervous."
As for the tax increases he supported, Bates makes no bones about his votes. They were difficult decisions, he said, when the state was in financial crisis after revenues fell by nearly a quarter in the 2001-03 biennium.
"What Republicans, including Sen. Smith, are spending in about a day in Iraq cover every tax increase that I've ever voted for in six years," Bates said, taking a swipe at Smith for supporting the war even as the majority of Oregonians oppose it.
Brady attacked, too
The letter's harshest criticisms were leveled at Portland businesswoman Eileen Brady, who announced recently that she too is considering running in the primary along with fellow Democrats attorney Steve Novick and entrepreneur Ty Pettit.
In his letter, Day lambasted Brady for not voting before 1994, and missing several elections since then.
"Although she aspires to cast critical votes on the floor of the U.S. Senate, in recent years she didn't care enough to cast her vote in many local elections," Day wrote.
Brady's political liabilities don't end there, he wrote. For instance, her non-union company, New Seasons Market, is being sued for racial discrimination and has been cited for numerous safety violations.
Day ended his three-page letter by saying: "I know it must be discouraging that the current individuals giving consideration to challenging Senator Smith have so many flaws that would make them wholly unacceptable to Oregon voters, and unfit for the job."
Bates' longtime political advisor and campaign strategist, Cathy Shaw, called the letter "unsophisticated" and lacking forethought.
"It makes me think that Senator Smith is more vulnerable that we realize," Shaw said from her Ashland home.
Marc Siegel, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Oregon, said while he cannot comment on the individual Democratic contenders, it is Smith who is out of step with Oregon voters, and his lackluster poll numbers prove that.
"It is hard to say that you represent Oregon values when you vote 90 percent of the time with President Bush and you consistently support the Iraq war," Siegel said, adding that Smith is also opposed to a woman's right to abortion.
"It's just astonishing that the Oregon Republican Party is so desperate, so early," he said. "You couldn't have a bigger red flag of desperation."
According to a May 24 SurveyUSA poll, Smith's overall approval rating is at 48 percent, with 39 percent disapproving. Among Republicans, 55 percent approve while 36 percent disapprove.
Among Democrats, Smith's approval rating has inched up to 47 percent, while 45 have an unfavorable opinion of him.
Smith moves center
Critics say Smith, a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, has tried to move closer to the center in an attempt to woo moderate Democrats and independents.
He has bucked his party on several bedrock issues, especially since the mid-term elections of November 2006.
On the war in Iraq, he said in December 2006 that the U.S. policy in Iraq "may even be criminal."
Then, weeks later, he declined to support a bipartisan resolution to oppose President Bush's plan to increase troop levels in Iraq by 21,500 to help quell sectarian violence in the war-torn country.
On gay rights, Smith, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, parted with most Republicans to support legislation to extend hate crimes to protect gays and lesbians.
However, he disappointed gay rights groups for supporting the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would define constitutionally marriage as between one man and one woman.
On right to life issues, Smith opposes a woman's right to choose, but supports expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which many anti-abortion activists oppose.
Bates' supporters consistently say that they feel bolstered by his win, albeit a narrow victory, in the Third State Senate District, where voter registration slightly favors Republicans over Democrats.
Combined with Bates' strong bipartisan credentials, medical career and military service during the Vietnam War, they say he makes for a formidable candidate.
Even with Bates' enviable resume, local Republicans don't believe that he can unseat Smith, who handily won a second term in 2002, defeating Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury with 56 percent of votes.
Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, said in an earlier interview that despite Smith's rift with some conservatives, Bates, with his political prowess and personal likability, is still no match for Smith, who has vowed to raise $10 million for his re-election bid.
"Senator Smith has made some decisions &
opposing the war &
that don't sit well with his conservative base, myself included," Platt said. "But when the dust settles after the primary, the Republican Party will strongly unite because the (Democratic) alternative is unthinkable, whoever that it is."
Bates said he will formally announce whether he will run a few weeks after the end of the legislative session, sometime this summer.
covers the state Legislature for The Daily Tidings. Reach him at email@example.com.
GOP comes out swinging for Smith