Pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby nabbed the Republican nomination for Senate in Oregon on Tuesday night, giving Republicans the candidate they believe is their best hope to give Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) a challenge.
Wehby was taking 55 percent of the vote to state Rep. Jason Conger’s 32 percent when the Associated Press called the race, with 52 percent of precincts reporting.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, easily defeated his primary challenger, Klamath County Chairman Dennis Linthicum, as well, taking 76 percent of the vote.
But Oregon is an all-mail ballot state, and it seems the details emerged too late to reverse an early lead Wehby cemented over Conger, due in large part to her compelling personal story as a pediatric neurosurgeon. Wehby aired an ad featuring a patient telling how the candidate performed surgery on her infant daughter to save her life, an emotional spot that drew her national attention.
Conger ran as the more conservative of the two, touting his opposition to abortion and gay marriage and his support for gun rights. He argued that he’d provide a stronger contrast to Merkley in the general, and picked up the backing of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in the race.
But it’s exactly Wehby’s more centrist views on social issues that have given Republicans such high hopes for her chances in the general. She nabbed the backing of both establishment actors like the Chamber of Commerce and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as conservative leaders, like physician Ben Carson and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
And though Conger charged that Wehby never took a clear stance on ObamaCare and wasn’t adamant enough in opposing it, Republicans believe she’ll be a credible messenger on the issue because of her medical background.
Wehby is a longshot in the general, with Oregon’s blue lean, but persistent issues with the state’s health care exchange have Republicans hopeful they have an opening against Wehby, to at least make the race competitive.