Meet Monica Wehby: The Oregon Republican Ahead of Her Time

It takes a brave soul to run for Senate as a Republican in Oregon. The state has voted for a Democrat for president in all of the last six elections, and there hasn't been a GOP senator there in almost 20 years.
10/17/2014 04:16 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

It takes a brave soul to run for Senate as a Republican in Oregon. The state has voted for a Democrat for president in all of the last six elections, and there hasn't been a GOP senator there in almost 20 years.

Monica Wehby, however, is no ordinary candidate. For a start, she's a pediatric neurosurgeon, divorced mother of four, and ran her own business as a doctor.

She's also pro-choice and pro-gay marriage, and she fully intends to unseat first-term Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, whose backing of the state's failing Obamacare exchange, Covered Oregon, has become a central theme in the campaign.

"I decided to run because I was really concerned about the direction of the country and I thought I could help. As a doctor, I have a different approach to looking at problems than typical politicians do. A logical, rather than an ideological approach," she told me.

Wehby said that her life's philosophy, and ultimately her motivation to run, could be summarized by a note she received from a young boy she had treated with a brain tumor. It said, "If we're not here to life make better for one another, then what's the point?"

It was with that sincerity and altruism that she won her four-way primary, and earned the early support of big name Republicans across the country with her bold opposition to Obamacare.

Mitt Romney was one of her earliest backers, declaring his support during her primary. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also gave her an early endorsement. And last month, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hosted a fundraiser to boost her campaign.

"The thing that is so good about our party is that we are a 'big tent' party," she said. "The [party leadership] has understood that we don't all have to agree 100 percent of the time on all the issues but that what's important is to get our country back on track economically."

That said, not everyone in the Republican Party is fighting her corner. Earlier this month, the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage wrote to the Republican congressional leadership to convince the party to withdraw its support for her candidacy on the basis of her pro-gay marriage stance.

"Unfortunately there are some groups that are basically one issue voters and don't really see the big picture. As Reagan said, somebody that is with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and ally not a 20 percent traitor. We're working hard in Oregon to pull all of the party together to win this election," she said.

From her point of view, her positions on gay marriage and abortion are entirely in keeping with conservative views of limited government.

"This is all about liberty and individual freedom and this is what our country was founded on was the ability to be who you are and live the life you choose and I don't think that government should be intruding into our personal and private lives," she said.

In any event, the flap within the party over Wehby's candidacy may just be a reflection of the deepening rift between social conservatives and moderate Republicans.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's presidential prospects will likely be hampered because he doesn't pass the litmus test on a number of issues for the right. And Bush and 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan could also have trouble getting through a GOP presidential primary, even though polls show that all three politicians are popular with the general public and carry the valuable electoral asset of high name ID.

Wehby characterizes herself as a champion of the middle class and small businesses. She said she would work for a balanced budget, an overhaul of the tax code, and cuts to regulation and red tape. She also wants to empower states to set education standards, repeal Obamacare and replace it with a patient-centered system, and devote more resources to national defense.

In other words, Wehby, both personally and ideologically, represents the best of what the Republican Party can be. A party that is not peevish and intolerant, but inclusive and optimistic. She's the kind of Republican the party needs more of if it has any hope of remaining electable in the 21st century, a consideration socially conservative ideologues do not appear to take into account.

The good news is that in her own state, Wehby saw off the right wing candidates in the primary. But with less than three weeks left in the race, she does have a challenge on her hands.

An average of the polls taken since April has her trailing by 13 percent. And a poll out this week puts the gap even wider at 21 points.

Still, even in the most recent poll, almost 20 percent of voters say they are still undecided, including 22 percent of Republicans.

"Things are much closer than people realize. I don't think they would be sending Vice President Biden and Elizabeth Warren out here if things were not very close."

She added that her own internal polling shows the race is significantly closer than the public polling indicates.

In the little time she has left, what does Wehby plan to do to successfully cross the finish line?

"We've just got to get all of our people out to vote. And we appeal to the independents and non-affiliated voters as well. The more they get to know me and the more they see me, the more comfortable they are that I represent their values and beliefs," she said.

"We're an independent-minded state. Sen. Merkley is so extreme, even for Oregon. He votes with his party 98 percent of the time and was rated the most liberal senator in the Senate."

So will this forward-thinking Republican prevail on November 4?

"We're going to win this," she said without hesitation.

For the sake of the party, this big tent Republican is certainly hoping she's right.