Merkley muffs question on Georgia conflict


Democratic Senate candidate Jeff Merkley, who's campaigned partly on his deep knowledge of world affairs, was caught seemingly unaware of the Russian invasion of Georgia in a campaign video taken last weekend.

Merkley, in a tough election battle with Republican Sen. Gordon Smith, seemed confused during a campaign stop in The Dalles Saturday morning when a citizen asked for his opinion on what was going on in Georgia.

Merkley at first thought he was being asked about the U.S. state of Georgia. Then, finally realizing he was being asked about the Russian invasion, he took a pass on the question.

"I'll have to find out the details. I have been on the road the last three days," Merkley said in the video, which was shot by a Republican tracker and posted on the Internet Tuesday by Politico, a Washington, D.C.-based politics web site.

Smith's office immediately seized on Merkley's response, saying that someone who aspires to be a U.S. senator should "stay on top of the news" or at least be dimly aware of something like the Russian invasion of Georgia.

"No matter where you are in Oregon, there is always a newspaper, usually a TV set and certainly the Internet," Smith campaign spokeswoman Lindsay Gilbride said.

It's possible the Smith campaign might use some of the Merkley video in a future campaign ad, she added.

Merkley's campaign spokesman, Matt Canter, said Merkley was campaigning at full tilt when the Russian invasion hit the news.

"He had not had an opportunity to learn about the conflict because he was campaigning and traveling the state," Canter said, adding that his boss is now fully up to speed on the situation in Georgia.

Political analyst Jim Moore said the episode is ironic, given that Merkley's background includes stints as a national security analyst at the Pentagon and time spent leading the World Affairs Council, a Portland-based international affairs group.

Moore said he can understand how a candidate who's thoroughly immersed in a tough statewide campaign might be not become immediately aware of events unfolding in another part of the world.

In fact, Moore said he only faults Merkley for continuing to eat a hot dog while he was being videotaped answering the citizen's question.

"When there's a camera and someone asks you a question, it's a common courtesy to stop eating and talk to the person. With these little cameras showing up all over the place, you never know where the video is going to end up," said Moore, who teachers political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.


Merkley-Georgia video: st-and-t able-manners/

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