OR-heavy down-ballot thread: Sen. Smith touts Dem endorsements and GOP House candidate hit by abortion scandal

Running for re-election in liberal-leaning Oregon, Gordon Smith has long known that he will have to fight hard to win re-election. Though Democrats threw him a lifeline by failing to recruit one of their strongest candidates, their nominee Jeff Merkley is solid enough to keep the race competitive. Smith has been preparing for more than a year by moving towards the center on enough issues to coherently argue that he is no Bush lackey, particularly on the Iraq War: Smith was one of the first Republicans to break with the Administration and start critiquing the war effort -- though his new ad is disingenuously forcing that trait by describing him as "one of the first to stand up to George Bush and other Republicans to end this war."

This latest ad features a Democratic state representative and a Democratic state Senator endorsing the Republican Senator, praising him for his bipartisanship:

Keep in mind that while Bush is certainly very unpopular in Oregon, this is not the bluest state in the country we are talking about. The extent to which Smith is trying to shake off the GOP label and claim the bipartisan mantle is remarkable and revealing of how much trouble Republican incumbents are in this year solely because of their party's dismal ratings. And the fact that elected Democratic officials are willing to participate in his advertisement efforts speaks to the fact that the Oregon Democratic Party has not really gotten its act together. Smith has led in all polls of the race, though his advantage is within single-digits and he comes in under 50% -- a sure sign of vulnerability. Given Al Franken's troubles in MN, the DSCC is sure to devote as much resources to this race as necessary.

Meanwhile, Oregon Republicans are letting the open seat of OR-05 slip out of their hands despite it being one of only two competitive Democratic-held open seats. You might remember that, back in May, Mike Erickson was viciously attacked by his primary opponent Kevin Manni for having paid his girlfriend's abortion years ago. Right to Life blasted Erickson immediately, but all that drama unfolded too late to damage Erickson in a state in which most voters sent their ballot in early via mail. Erickson prevailed in the primary, leading Democrats to rejoice that the GOP had nominated a candidate too damaged to be competitive in the general and some Republicans are refusing to support Erickson.

Now, the woman whose abortion Erickson allegedly paid for has been contacted by the Oregonian and she confirms Mannix's story. She reveals being particularly angered by Erickson's denying the story and his attempts at campaigning as a pro-lifer: "Tawnya, a registered Republican, said she received a campaign flier with a photo of Erickson next to a baby, touting his endorsement by the anti-abortion group Oregon Right to Life. The mailer made him out to be "some sort of safe haven for babies, and honestly, it made me sick," she said." Erickson denies the story entirely -- but this isn't going to help his already rocky relationship with local conservative activists.

In other -- tragic -- House news, the candidate endorsed by the Staten Island GOP to run for Vito Fossella's House seat in NY-13 passed away yesterday. The Republican Party turned to Powers on May 29th after a slate of potential GOP candidates declined to run for this Republican-held seat, in a reflection of the long odds the party faces in keeping its last New York City seat. The GOP will now presumably reconvene to endorse another candidate, and the names of some candidates who had previously declined to run (starting with state Sen. Lanza) are being mentioned again. Democratic candidate Michael McMahon was already favored to win this seat that has now gone through months of unexpected and at times tragic news.

Moving on to the Senate, South Carolina was never on anyone's list of vulnerable Senate seats, but a party always likes to have some sort of credible challenger in case the incumbent has a meltdown, commits a huge blunder or has some senior moment (see Kentucky in 2004 and Virginia in 2006). Well, it turns out that SC Democrats might have nominated... a Republican to take on Senator Lindsay Graham. Bob Conley has had a long relationship with the GOP and, while he claims to have left the party back in 2000 or 2001, he won a spot on the Republican Party's Horry County executive committee in February 2007. While he pledged to be a Democrat when filing his candidacy papers and thus resigned from the GOP, this shouldn't push the DSCC to attempt anything in SC even if Graham suffers the worst scandals over the next few months.

Finally, the roll call of the House vote on the FISA bill is now up, and 128 Democrats voted nay versus 105 who voted yea, including many of their prized pick-ups of 2006 (Altmire, Gillibrand, Arcuri, Boyda, Sestak, Pennsylvania's Murphy), many of whom represent more or less conservative districts. Of the two Udalls who are looking to upgrade to the Senate, New Mexico's voted Nay and Colorado's voted yea. The former is more of a shoo-in than the latter. As Glenn Greenwald reports, there is some massive fundraising going on to punish Democrats supporting the bill and the sight of activists is set on Rep. Barrow of GA-12 (one of the most conservative Dems in the House, even though he represents a district won by Kerry). Remember that a heated primary is being held in that district, but Obama chose to cut an ad for Barrow last week.

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