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Merkley and Wehby Finally Debate


US Senator Jeff Merkley and his Republican challenger Monica Wehby went head-to-head Tuesday on Medford TV station KOBI.  

In their only scheduled debate, both candidates sought to portray the other as extreme and out of touch with everyday Oregonians, while positioning themselves as champions of working people.

Merkley and Wehby took jabs at each other, but neither landed a knockout blow. When Wehby – a pediatric neurosurgeon who is running for her first elected office – was asked what was wrong with Congress these days, she said it was the hyper-partisan atmosphere that keeps lawmakers from getting anything done. And, she said, “My opponent here is the poster boy for polarization. He votes 98 percent of the time with his party. He does just what he’s told to do.”

Merkley – seeking re-election to a second term -- cited cases where he’s worked with Republicans, even very conservative lawmakers such as Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Wehby was asked by a moderator to explain why a health care policy on her website appeared to have been plagiarized. She responded that she’d been involved in health care for years and that many good policy ideas had similarities. Merkley pounced: “Well, we already knew that my opponent took her tax plan from Romney, and her environmental plan from the Koch brothers, the biggest polluters in the country, but I was shocked that her health care plan came from a survey written by Karl Rove.”

Wehby accused Merkley of not supporting Oregon timber workers. He  responded by pointing to his work with Senator Ron Wyden, who’s sponsoring a bill that would increase logging on federal lands in Oregon.

Merkley took a swipe at Wehby for opposing his bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour. Wehby said minimum wage levels should be decided by each state.

One thing both candidates agreed on was support for the Jordan Cove pipeline project, which would bring natural gas to a coastal shipping facility at Coos Bay.

Just three weeks before Election Day, Merkley has a three-to-one fundraising advantage over Wehby. Adding to that gap is the decision last month by a Virginia-based group linked to industrialists David and Charles Koch to pull the plug on a $3 million ad campaign attacking Merkley.

A new poll sponsored by Oregon Public Broadcasting and Portland TV station Fox 12 shows Merkley with a 19-point lead over his challenger.

Liam Moriarty has been covering news in the Pacific Northwest for three decades. He served two stints as JPR News Director and retired full-time from JPR at the end of 2021. Liam now edits and curates the news on JPR's website and digital platforms.