WASHINGTON -- The Oregon GOP Senate primary has been rocked in recent days with negative stories about front-runner Monica Wehby, including reports that she allegedly stalked her ex-boyfriend and harassed her ex-husband.
But those stories could have come a bit too late to make much of a dent in the outcome of the race.
"I think this has a good chance of shaking it, but it's the timing," said Ed Dover, a political science professor at Western Oregon University. "I'm not convinced it's going to completely bring her down."
Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, meaning that every voter gets a ballot that they then turn in. Friday was the last day to mail in the ballots. But voters also have until Tuesday at 8 p.m. PST to drop their ballot in boxes around the state.
According to the most recent data from the Oregon Secretary of State, 19.9 percent of voters had turned in their ballots to vote as of May 18, two days before the election.
Oregon's voters historically have tended to vote late, as shown by this chart by Anna Staver of the Statesman Journal:
So while voters may still be making up their minds, it may be tough for the negative stories to do too much damage -- in the primary election. Wehby, after all, has had a significant financial advantage over her main competitor, state Sen. Jason Conger (R).
Wehby, a neurosurgeon, spent $500,000 in April and has raised $1.2 million since announcing her candidacy in October. Conger, a social conservative who has picked up endorsements from former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) and Oregon Right to Life, raised only $82,000 in April, but $20,000 of that amount was money he loaned his own campaign. Conger has raised under $340,000 during his whole campaign.
However, there's no doubt that if Wehby wins, all of these negative stories will come up again in the general election against Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
In recent weeks, Wehby's relationship with lumber baron Andrew Miller has garnered national headlines. The state Democratic Party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that a super PAC funded by Miller -- who was once romantically involved with the candidate -- is illegally coordinating with Wehby's campaign. Late last week, Politico reported that last year, Miller filed a police report accusing Wehby of stalking him. Miller has since said he regrets calling the police on Wehby.
On Monday, the day before the primary election, The Oregonian reported that Wehby's ex-husband "accused her of 'ongoing harassment' as they were going through a divorce in December 2007 and also called the police on her in December 2009 over a dispute about seeing their children."
"Jim [Wehby's ex-husband] said they are currently in a divorce situation and is tired of the ongoing harassment by his wife," the police report said. "Jim said over the last year Monica has pulled his hair, slapped him and thrown items at him. Jim said he had been violent with her in the past approximately three years or so ago."
Last Wednesday, a woman at the center of a high-profile medical abuse case appeared in court in Portland. She is accused of harming her children with unnecessary procedures. This case was a further headache for Wehby, who performed several of the procedures.
Wehby issued a statement Monday responding to the old police reports, blasting them as politically motivated.
"Like a lot of women, I've gone through a divorce that was a very trying time for me and for my family," she said. "I'm deeply saddened that such a personal matter, which bears no relevance to my Senate campaign, has been used as a political weapon to attack my character."
Dover noted that while the Wehby stories were getting a considerable amount of press attention in Oregon, they generally weren't banner-breaking front-page news, and it might take voters a few more days -- after the primary is over -- to catch on to what's happening.
"I think she's going to win, not by much," Dover said, "and she's going to enter the general election as a weakened candidate and probably in serious trouble."
Even if Wehby were a stronger candidate, beating Merkley would be an uphill battle. No Republican has won statewide in Oregon since 2002.
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