Two interesting Senate races are heating up as we approach mid summer. The first is close to home for me and involves a moderate Republican incumbent fighting to keep his seat in a pretty blue state. My family still lives just across the Columbia River from Portland, OR where Gordon Smith has employed some pretty unusual campaign tactics in his quest to beat out Democratic Speaker of the Oregon House Jeff Merkley. Instead of using Barack Obama's name in an attempt to tie Merkley to the "elitist, out of touch" candidate like was done in other House races, Smith is actually tying himself to Obama. Watch this new ad where he touts "bipartisan partnership" with the Democratic nominee.
How many people think this approach will work? He also cites praise from the Democratic Gov. of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski. It may be a long-shot, but moderates in Oregon just may not care whether he is a Democrat or a Republican. We will have to see how this race is shaping up, but because it is widely expected that Obama will carry the state come November, it seems safe for Smith to hedge his bets with some Democratic voters.
The other race is in New Mexico which is tending blue-ish these days. The amazing thing about this seat is that it was left vacant by the retirement of Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM). He has been under investigation for his role in the firing of Justice Department Attorney David Iglesias and chose not to run for reelection. While that isn't so shocking, his hand-picked successor, Heather Wilson was highly favored to win the Republican primary until the other Republican congressman from NM joined the race and beat her by some 3,200 votes. Steve Pearce is arguably much more conservative than Wilson and may make the general election fight easier for Tom Udall, the Democratic Nominee, to win. There have been indications that the NRSC (National Republican Senatorial Comittee) may cut funding and divert resources into other races like Louisiana, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Maine or Minnesota. We will see whether or not the GOP cuts its losses with Pearce or whether it pushes hard for a much needed win in November.