U.S. Senate candidates in Ashland

Hoping to woo local Democrats, the two men vying for the chance to unseat U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., will be in Ashland today.

Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Portland attorney and activist Steve Novick will make campaign stops around town, including at Southern Oregon University, where the two will speak to classes separately.

Paulie Brading of Medford, chairwoman of the Jackson County Democratic Party, said the Rogue Valley has emerged recently as a must-stop for Democratic campaigns.

"It's been a very nice change for people in Jackson County to have so many opportunities to meet the candidates in informal settings and ask questions," Brading said. "The candidates know that we lay out the red carpet for them down here."

Brading, as the county's Democratic Party leader, has regularly been host to visiting candidates, including Merkley and Novick as well as John Kroger, who is running for state attorney general and Oregon Secretary of State candidate Kate Brown, who is also in Jackson County today.

Democrats face a tough battle to unseat Smith, who has a huge campaign war chest and deep pockets of his own that he could tap to help bankroll his reelection campaign.

Merkley, the favorite among Oregon's Democratic heavyweights as well as national Democrats, has raked in a total of $913,000 in just over four months, his campaign spokesman Russ Kelley said Sunday.

In the most recently ended fund-raising quarter, Merkley, who was recruited by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C., raised $619,000 &

mostly from 2009 individual donors, including 1,230 Oregonians.

"I'm profoundly grateful for the support we've received in just four short months," Merkley said. "These are folks who believe, as I do, that we can only change Washington by changing the people we send there."

Novick, the first to jump into the race and the self-described underdog, raised more than $540,000 in the fourth-quarter, campaign manager Jake Weigler said.

"We're well on target to have more than enough money to get our message out and introduce Steve to the voters," Weigler said.

The campaign, he added, will being airing TV spots throughout the state next week, including in Medford.

covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.

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