29 Sep

Does Monica Wehby really want to run for Senate?

Recently, a Kansas newspaper reported that Paul Davis, Democratic candidate for governor, had been caught in the ‘90s in a police raid on a strip club, and had been found in a back room with a topless dancer. Davis said he’d been brought there by his boss, and it was a case of being “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” and his situation does indeed seem a vivid example of that phrase.

Also this month, the web site of Mary Burke, Democratic nominee for governor of Wisconsin, was purged of jobs language apparently lifted from candidates who had run for governor of other states. Those candidates had all used her campaign consultant, whom she removed from her campaign, along with the jobs language.

Last week, Gov. Paul LePage of Maine seemed to overthrow all plans for campaign debates when he said he didn’t want to appear on the same stage with the Democratic candidate, Rep. Michael Michaud. LePage said he’d be willing to debate independent candidate Eliot Cutler.

The campaign trail is lined with pitfalls, stories your campaign doesn’t want to see in the headlines, developments that produce indignant statements that of course voters don’t care about such things. Any one of them can be a complication when voters try to envision the candidate in office, making major decisions and being escorted by motorcycle police.

But in a nation of statewide candidates, it seems only one has achieved the complete trifecta: embarrassing revelations, plagiarized positions and debate refusals. Monica Wehby, come on down.

The Oregon GOP Senate candidate’s difficulties began at the end of the primary campaign with the revelation, apparently a surprise to the people who urged her into the race, that she had three times been the subject of police calls for domestic disturbance. This may not be comparable to being discovered in the back room of a strip club, and may not be a disqualification from the Senate – it certainly wouldn’t disqualify her from the NFL – but it’s an awkward thing to pop up.

It may not have helped that Wehby’s immediate reaction was to blame the Merkley campaign staff, although there was no evidence that they had called the cops.

Then observers noted a curious familiarity in policy language on Wehby’s campaign web site. Her plans on health care in particular, repeatedly cited as reflecting her special insights into the issue as a pediatric neurosurgeon, turned out to be lifted intact from the medical authority Karl Rove. Once again, the campaign’s response may not have been ideal, with a campaign spokesman sniffing, “Dr. Wehby is too busy performing brain surgery on sick children to respond, sorry.”

Actually, she wasn’t.

It took a while for the Wehby campaign to reach the proper position in such cases, blaming a departed campaign staff member – although uncooperatively, the former staffer has been insisting it wasn’t his fault.

The Senate campaign has provided lots of things to discuss in campaign debates, except so far it seems there will be only one – in Medford, several hundred miles from most of the Oregon electorate. Friday, Wehby definitively refused a Portland TV debate, a standard element of an Oregon Senate or governor’s race campaign.

Typically, challengers – especially challengers trailing in the polls – are eager for debates, suggesting holding them on a weekly basis, or in every part of the state, or on every issue that can be drawn out of a hat. Incumbents and frontrunners – usually a redundancy – show a modest reluctance on debates, although this being Oregon, they generally agree to several.

Wehby’s agreeing to only one debate, on Medford TV, displays a shyness unusual among challengers, usually so eager for TV time that they’ll leap to appear on surveillance cameras. Wehby, however, has shown this diffidence before, declining the only televised debate, on KGW-TV, in the Republican primary campaign.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been turned down by a major-race candidate,” said KGW Executive News Director Rick Jacobs at the time. “I can’t remember the last time it’s happened.”

As of Friday, he’s seen it happen twice.

In various ways, Wehby’s campaign has been on what you might call a bumpy path. But the experience so far raises a whole other question:

If you don’t want to debate, don’t want to be on television, don’t want to offer your own proposals and don’t want people looking into your life, what’s the point of running for Senate at all?

Can it be that much fun just raising money?

NOTE: This column appeared in The Sunday Oregonian, 9/28/14.

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