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U.S. Senate candidates gear up

Merkley launches ad ahead of Koch-funded campaign against him


Three months before the Nov. 4 election, Oregon’s major-party candidates for U.S. senator are already geared up for their campaigns.

Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley stockpiled $3.5 million as of June 30, compared with $646,831 for Republican rival Monica Wehby.

Wehby raised $846,000 during May and June, including a $2,000 contribution from the 2012 presidential bid of Mitt Romney, who endorsed her Senate bid earlier this year. Merkley raised $1.33 million.

During the 18-month cycle, Merkley raised almost $6.8 million, Wehby $2 million.

But planned independent spending by a committee associated with the Koch brothers, pegged at up to $3.6 million by the Merkley campaign, will start showing up as advertising on Oregon’s airwaves this month.

The stations have not yet reported all ad buys.

The Koch brothers are aiming their efforts against Democrats. Wehby is a physician from Portland making her first bid for public office and has gotten contributions from current, retiring or former Republican members of Congress.

Merkley’s campaign, however, is launching a paid web ad of its own this week tying Wehby to the Koch brothers’ positions on federal spending and tax breaks.

Merkley supported and Wehby would have opposed a Senate bill, which effectively died last week, that would have ended tax breaks for businesses moving their operations abroad. Republicans declined to end debate when the Democratic leader declined to allow amendments to the bill.

Merkley’s campaign has booked about $2 million in broadcast ads, although federal law requires stations to sell time to federal candidates at their lowest rates; others, such as the Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners, must buy at higher rates.

A New York Times report last week pegged Merkley at 55 percent, Wehby at 41 percent, based on recently conducted surveys by others, demographic analyses and political trends.

The FiveThirtyEight.com website, run by Nate Silver, puts Merkley’s chances of winning re-election at 95 percent. The website, which is no longer affiliated with The New York Times, says Republicans have an edge in wresting a majority in the Senate from Democrats.

During the primary, which Wehby won over state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, both benefited from independent-expenditure campaigns.

Wehby benefited from $500,000 from NewRepublican.org, whose founder is Alex Castellanos, a Republican political consultant who has worked for Bob Dole, George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

Conger benefited from $500,000, about $290,000 of it from the American Principles Fund aimed against Wehby, and the rest from Oregon Right to Life.

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Clarifies that Merkley campaign has launched a paid web ad.