The GOP has a weak bench in Oregon, making it unclear how credible a campaign they will be able to mount for 2010’s statewide races: Democratic Senator Ron Wyden is expected to run for re-election and the gubernatorial contest will be open because of term-limit laws. One of the only Republicans mentioned for either contest is former Senator Gordon Smith, who narrowly lost his re-election race last year. Smith was dragged down by his party’s unpopularity in 2008, and some believed he might attempt a comeback in a more favorable environment.
Yet, Smith has just taken a job as a senior adviser in a lobbying firm, Covington & Burling. Given that Smith would need to start to mount a statewide campaign in the months ahead, this news suggests that he is not considering a challenge to Senator Wyden or a run for Oregon’s governorship. That is great news for Democrats, as it leaves the GOP with no obvious candidate for either race. (Rep. Walden, the only Republican in the state delegation, is sometimes mentioned.)
Smith also adds his name to the list of former Senators who were rumored to be looking for their old job back but who appear to have backtracked. Jim Talent announced he would not run for Missouri’s open seat, Ohio’s Mike DeWine is said to be leaning towards the Attorney General race, and Bob Smith will not attempt a comeback in New Hampshire (though he might still run in Florida). Remains John Sununu, about whom we are hearing very little rumors.
Also, TPM notes that this “senior adviser” title is a shady way for outgoing congressmen to circumvent the 2007 law requiring them to wait a year before become lobbyists. Others who used the “senior adviser” path to get lucrative jobs at the top lobbying firms before that year-long period is over: Dennis Hastert, Conrad Burns and Tom Daschle, who made millions as a lobbyist without ever registering as one.
Daschle’s status provoked some controversy in the early weeks of his appointment to Obama’s Cabinet, before the furor over unpaid taxes forced him to withdraw his nomination - a cautionary tale for all politicians that taking the revolving door from Congress to K Street will make it difficult to mount a political comeback.
While Oregon Republicans look to have lost a potential candidate, Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter just drew his first primary challenger! Meet Larry Murphy, who announced last week that he would run in the GOP’s Senate primary. In an interview with the Sharon Herald, he outlined his conservative principles on a variety of issues ranging from abortion (”We can no longer support mothers killing their children”) to the bailout (”It has to be the law of Darwinism in the business community”).
His name might not be Toomey, nor is he one of the many prominent Pennsylvania Republicans who are said to be looking into a Senate race Arlen Specter’s vote in support of the stimulus bill. But that is no reason not to take him seriously. Murphy already challenged Specter in 1998, and he received 18% - a decent foundation.
That said, there is no question that Murphy does not have the stature required to defeat a five-term incumbent. In fact, Murphy could help the incumbent survive: Conservatives might be angry at Specter, but they will need to be unified against a single candidate if they want to finally unseat the Republican. If a more prominent candidate like Toomey jumps in the race, Murphy’s presence on the ballot would boost Specter by drawing votes away from the leading conservative contender.
Just a couple of percentage points spoiled could make the difference - Specter survivedy by only 2% in 2004, and Murphy did get 18% in the past.