On Wednesday, Sen. Chuck Schumer predicted to several Democratic insiders that Jeff Merkley will unseat incumbent Sen. Gordon Smith in Oregon, multiple sources confirmed. At least one DSCC staffer is also telling prominent Democratic fundraisers that Merkley will prevail, according to an email obtained by the Huffington Post.
With Smith currently leading by 9,000 votes, the predictions might seem like a bold move, or perhaps a way to boost spirits, but Democrats in the state echo that same confidence.
The reason is that Multnomah county, home to liberal bastion Portland, still has approximately 160,000 votes left to be counted. With 49 percent of precincts there reporting on Wednesday, votes were running 2 to 1 in the Democrat's favor. The only frustration for Merkley's campaign is that the urban metropolis is counting ballots at a clip of 6,000 per hour. Meanwhile, rural counties in Oregon, which hold many fewer outstanding votes, are processing votes faster on Wednesday, meaning that Smith may appear to increase his lead for a brief period this evening.
"There's a little confusion for some people as to why statewide totals remain what they are. But we're extremely confident," said Matt Canter on the Merkley campaign. "The ballots are there, in Multnomah and Lane counties."
Merkley leads 57-39 in the 45 percent of Lane precincts that have been counted so far. The Merkley aide said no Republican counties that have yet to count votes are giving Smith a similar advantage. The state's populous, suburban Washington county so far shows a couple-thousand vote lead for the Democratic candidate -- though Smith has been closing that margin today.
"Even if he was to close that gap in Washington county and go up a few hundred votes, what's still outstanding in Multnomah is enough," Canter said.
On Thursday, the Oregonian quoted a respected local pollster standing by his election-night prediction that Merkley would pull out a victory. "I still think Merkley is going to win," Oregon pollster Tim Hibbitts said. "But it's going to be tight, and a lot tighter than I thought it was going to be. We shall see."