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GOP nominees shake up their staffs

One moves from Senate campaign to governor as candidates trail incumbent Democrats.


The Republican nominees for statewide office in Oregon are shaking up their campaign staffs for the fall election.

The changes come as Monica Wehby and Dennis Richardson trail in public opinion surveys U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley and Gov. John Kitzhaber, the Democratic incumbents they hope to unseat Nov. 4.

Wehby's campaign manager, Charlie Pearce, will move over to the Richardson campaign. Pearce was a top aide to Mitt Romney in his 2008 and 2012 bids for the presidency.

Pearce will be succeeded by Michael Antonopoulos, who managed the losing bid of Matt Whitaker for the GOP nomination for a U.S. Senate seat in Iowa.

Richardson's current campaign manager, Tom Maginnis, will become a senior adviser.

Also signing on as Richardson's field director is Jordan Conger, son of and campaign aide to state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, who lost the Senate primary to Wehby.

Wehby's woes

Three independent surveys conducted since the May 20 primary indicate that Wehby, a physician from Portland making her first bid for elected office, trails Merkley.

In a Rasmussen Reports poll of 750 voters conducted May 21-22, Merkley led Wehby, 47 percent to 37 percent.

In a Public Policy Polling survey of 956 voters conducted May 22-27, Merkley led Wehby, 50 percent to 36 percent.

In a Survey USA poll of 900 voters conducted June 5-9, Merkley led Wehby, 50 percent to 32 percent.

Wehby's campaign released an internal poll indicating an even race. But Frank Luntz, a prominent Republican pollster, raised doubts about the validity of all GOP internal polling after the primary defeat last week of U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House majority leader. Cantor's internal poll, conducted by a firm other than the one working for Wehby, had Cantor winning by 34 percentage points. He lost to a more conservative challenger by 11 percentage points.

Wehby was damaged by news disclosures that her former husband and former boyfriend filed stalking reports with Portland police during the breakup of their relationships. Although neither report resulted in formal charges — and the former boyfriend, Stimson Lumber president Andrew Miller, supported her campaign financially — 40 percent of those sampled in the Public Policy Polling post-primary survey viewed her negatively, just 26 percent positively.

Earlier this week, the Merkley campaign brought out experts to criticize her proposal for cutting taxes as even more generous to high-income households and corporations than one proposed by Romney in his 2012 presidential bid.

For the most part, Wehby has kept a low profile with a few campaign appearances, mostly east of the Cascades, while she attempts to convince potential donors and national Republicans she can pose a strong challenge to Merkley's second-term bid.

Wehby got much of her primary money from campaign committees of current, retiring or former GOP lawmakers, and national GOP operatives.

Richardson's hope

Meanwhile, Richardson, a five-term state representative from Southern Oregon, trails Kitzhaber in two public opinion surveys.

In the Public Policy Polling survey, Kitzhaber led Richardson, 49 percent to 36 percent.

In the Survey USA poll, Kitzhaber led Richardson, 48 percent to 35 percent.

The polls give Richardson some glimmers of hope.

In the Public Policy Polling survey, Kitzhaber's job performance was rated negatively by 46 percent, positively by 42 percent. In a December 2012 survey, it was 50 percent positive, 41 percent negative.

Also, 62 percent of those sampled said they did not know Richardson. Of those who did, they split their views evenly at 19 percent.

In the Survey USA poll, those who weigh the failure of the Cover Oregon website as important to their vote favored Richardson by 3 to 1. For those who did not, they favored Kitzhaber by 11 to 1.

They generally confirm findings of a DHM Research poll conducted before the primary. Of the 400 voters sampled, 49 percent said they wanted someone else as governor; 35 percent favored Kitzhaber's re-election. But when matched head to head, it was Kitzhaber 48 percent, Richardson 36 percent.

Richardson will need to raise far more money to make his case, particularly in the Portland metropolitan area. According to reports filed with the Oregon secretary of state, Richardson's campaign had a balance of $77,000; Kitzhaber's, $845,000.

The Survey USA poll had Kitzhaber up by 21 percentage points in the Portland area, Merkley by 26 percentage points.

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