Blumenauer declines Senate bid; Dems seek to rally on Oregon trail

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) yesterday announced he will not run for Senate in 2008, becoming the latest major potential candidate to decline to challenge Sen. Gordon Smith (R) and leaving a gaping void in one of Democrats’ top targeted states.

Eyes had been fixed on Blumenauer in the weeks since Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) turned down his party’s overt entreaties.

Two other top potential Democratic candidates, former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and state Treasurer Randall Edwards, also have said they will not run.

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It’s now unclear on which potential candidate Democrats will focus in their quest to unseat Smith, and sources in Washington and Oregon aren’t shopping other names yet. So far, the only substantial Democratic candidate is local activist and consultant Steve Novick, a former Justice Department attorney who is not well known outside local Democratic circles.

National Democrats have focused on the state and often have cited Smith’s impassioned speech shortly after the 2006 elections in which he criticized the Bush administration’s execution of the Iraq war. Smith previously had supported the war.

Blumenauer said the decision was difficult, but that he couldn’t devote the time needed to run for Senate over the next 18 months.

“There is no question that Gordon Smith is vulnerable to defeat,” the seventh-termer wrote on his website. “His post-election turnaround on Iraq leaves no doubt that he knows he’s out of step with most Oregonians.
“At this unique moment in history, there is too much work to be done in the House of Representatives to take on a campaign for the U.S. Senate.”

Aside from Blumenauer and the others who have declined to run, very few names have surfaced as potential candidates. Democratic sources said they expected several to emerge now that Blumenauer is out, but the quality and renown of those potential candidates remains to be seen.

Rep. Darlene Hooley (D) has said she would not run, while Rep. David Wu (D) has yet to completely rule out a Senate bid. Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (D) will not run again after losing to Smith 56-40 in 2002, spokeswoman Mary Conley said.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) spokesman Matt Miller said Smith remains “extremely vulnerable,” but declined to comment on the committee’s recruiting process.

“This state is going to have one of the top races in the country,” Miller said. “There is a deep bench of potential candidates, and we’re confident that the Democratic Party will field a nominee who will beat Gordon Smith.”

The DSCC was shot down after publicly releasing a poll showing DeFazio beating Smith head-to-head. DeFazio initially told The Hill in January that he would not run. He said he would consider the race after the DSCC poll, only to nix a bid again.

Novick has not yet captured the imagination of national Democrats but has gained some traction in the netroots community and hopes his state efforts will increase his viability in the party’s eyes.

He said yesterday that Blumenauer’s exit “does clarify things” for him. He was deferring to members of Congress and Bradbury. He has no plans to meet with leaders in Washington at this point to seek their support.

“It probably does raise the level of intensity,” Novick said. “People who were willing to write checks before are willing to write bigger checks now, among other things.”

Blumenauer said in a conference call that the DSCC was helpful and accommodating, specifically praising the organization of Chairman Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Blumenauer said a number of potential candidates had contacted him since he began considering the race, and he is confident Democrats will have a strong candidate. But he would not name names.

“I think there is a process that’s going on with a number of people who are evaluating their contribution to make to this,” Blumenauer said. “I would prefer not to take anybody else’s thunder.”

Blumenauer’s announcement marks the second time in four years that the congressman has clung to his current seat and passed on running for other office. In 2003, he decided not to run for mayor of Portland, the anchor of his district.

His seat is one of the safest in the country, and Blumenauer has taken about three-quarters of the vote in recent years.