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Sen. Merkley on Biden visit: 'It can never hurt'

GOP rival assails vice president ahead of Democratic rally at Oregon Convention Center.

Photo Credit: ALVARO FONTAN - Senator Jeff MerkleyEven as a new poll shows him with a comfortable lead over his Republican rival, Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley says he welcomes Wednesday’s visit to Portland by Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden will appear at a private fundraiser and at a public rally for Merkley at the Oregon Convention Center. He was in California earlier this week and will be headed to Washington state.

“Any time we can get him to Oregon, it allows me to enhance the conversation about issues in our state that he should be concerned about,” Merkley said Wednesday morning at an editorial board meeting of the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group.

An example, Merkley says, is a need to expand career and vocational training to increase the number of workers who require advanced skills but not necessarily a college education. He has put in a congressional bill, modeled on Oregon’s 2011 legislation that has enabled more than 200 schools to obtain almost $14 million in grants for such programs.

“It can never hurt to get somebody to our state who is in a position to influence the president’s agenda, the ideas being put forward and the national conversation,” Merkley says.

Merkley spoke after the release of a New York Times/CBS News poll conducted by YouGov between Sept. 20 and Oct. 1.

Counting “leaners,” the online sample of 1,508 voters had Merkley at 53 percent and Republican Monica Wehby at 39 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Wehby is a physician from Portland who is making her first bid for public office. She is scheduled to appear at the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group editorial board on Oct. 16.

Her campaign spokesman, Dean Petrone, issued a statement tying Merkley to the policies of Biden and President Barack Obama:

“Vice President Biden is the perfect pairing to Senator Merkley’s incoherent and very absent plan for solving Oregon’s economic woes. Together, they share President Obama’s agenda that continues us down a path of fewer jobs, higher costs, and less opportunity.”

During the meeting, Merkley says his highest priorities in a second term are to encourage the creation of more higher-paying jobs, boost educational opportunities and make college more affordable, and continue to work toward making the Senate more functional.

"It's important to restore the functionality of the Senate" to achieve the other goals, Merkley says. "The Oregon Legislature works 10 times better."

Merkley was speaker of the Oregon House before he unseated Republican Gordon Smith in 2008.

Merkley and Wehby also continue to debate about debates with less than four weeks to go before the Nov. 4 election.

They have one scheduled joint appearance Oct. 14 on Medford TV station KOBI, at the same time Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber and Republican Dennis Richardson will appear on Portland TV station KGW, in a forum cosponsored by The Oregonian.

Merkley accepted but Wehby passed up an offer to appear on KGW. Wehby said later she had a problem with the KGW offer, but declined to specify what it was, and station officials say she never discussed it with them.

Wehby then countered with proposals for joint appearances on Portland TV station KOIN, Oregon Public Broadcasting, and the City Club of Portland, all of which Merkley rejected Tuesday.

She was a no-show at editorial board meetings of Willamette Week and the East Oregonian.

“She’s blown off three; I hope she shows up” at the other joint appearance, Merkley says, counting her rejection of the KGW/Oregonian offer.

Wehby campaign spokesman Petrone says this in a statement:

“This proves beyond a doubt the Merkley campaign's first proposal was nothing more than a stunt meant to hide their unwillingness to match Dr. Wehby step for step in an arena of ideas. It is unfortunate they refuse to take seriously Oregon’s need for a real conversation on how to help our working families.”

In contrast, Kitzhaber and Richardson appeared together before three newspaper editorial boards — including the Portland Tribune/Pamplin Media Group and EO Media Group on Sept. 22 — and with three minor-party candidates at a Sept. 27 forum at the League of Oregon Cities annual conference in Eugene.

They were paired at the Oregon Association of Broadcasters conference Sept. 26 in Sunriver, and will appear together twice more: Friday at the City Club of Portland, and Oct. 14 on KGW/The Oregonian.


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