PORTLAND — Revelations that Monica Wehby’s ex-husband and ex-boyfriend had both complained to police that she harassed them did little damage to her campaign, as she easily defeated state Rep. Jason Conger to take on U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in the November election.
Also in Tuesday’s primary, GOP gubernatorial candidate Dennis Richardson defeated four rivals and will go up against Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber.
But the surprise of the night may have been a big win in Jackson and Josephine counties by opponents of genetically modified crops. Voters in the Rogue Valley decided emphatically to ban genetically engineered crops.
In the Legislature, grassroots conservatives rejected establishment Republicans in three of four districts where they battled.
Accepting victory in front of cheering supporters at her campaign headquarters in Oregon City, Wehby addressed the police reports that surfaced in the final days of the campaign.
“I do have a message for those national Democrats who are willing to shred my family for their own political gain: People are tired of your dirty tricks,” Wehby said. “We all know that the best way to defeat a bully is to stand up to him, and that is exactly what we are going to do.”
Wehby will face an uphill climb against Merkley, a first-term Democrat. Republicans haven’t won a statewide race in Oregon in more than a decade.
“There’s a clear choice in the race for Senate between Monica Wehby, who will vote with national Republicans against Oregon’s priorities, and Jeff Merkley, who fights for Oregon and puts Oregon first,” Merkley campaign manager Alex Youn said in a statement.
In Southern Oregon, Jackson County voters approved by a 2-to-1 margin to outlaw genetically modified crops. A similar, lower-profile measure in neighboring Josephine County also was approved. Though it’s a local issue, the Jackson County measure attracted national interest. A pair of competing campaigns raised $1.3 million to sway the county’s 120,000 registered voters. Nearly $1 million of that money was raised to defeat the proposed ban.
“The voters here have many generations of fruit and vegetable growing, so they’re among the most educated voters,” said Chuck Burr, president of the Southern Oregon Seed Growers Association. “The opposition spent a million dollars and couldn’t convince the people.”
A handful of state legislative races saw hard-fought contests between warring factions of the Republican Party, and they look to shake up the House GOP. Populist conservatives beat out establishment candidates backed by the business community in three of four races. All are staunchly conservative districts, so the Republican nominee is all heavily favored in November’s general election.
The new conservative voices will have an impact on the rest of the Republican caucus, said Bill Post, a talk-radio host from Keizer who beat out a business-backed Republican, Barbara Jensen.
“I think it will be good to pull them a little bit more to the right,” Post said.
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