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GOP candidates spar, wrestle with issues at forum

A faceoff between Jason Conger and Monica Wehby, the two leading Republican candidates for U.S. senator, ended abruptly Friday after a reference to a police report that surfaced about Wehby’s alleged stalking of a former boyfriend.

The remarks and reaction came after an hour-long forum at the City Club of Portland, during which the candidates agreed on most issues.

“There are many issues swirling around my opponent’s candidacy,” said Conger, a lawyer and two-term state representative from Bend.

JASON CONGERHe offered no characterization of the report filed by Andrew Miller, president of Stimson Lumber, with Portland police in 2013 just as Miller’s two-year relationship ended with Wehby, a Portland physician. The report was the focus of a story posted on the Politico website. Miller is quoted as saying he now regrets filing the report.

“But I think they are very relevant to the issue about how we (Republicans) vote,” Conger said.

Wehby had no opportunity to respond because Conger spoke last at the forum. But Wehby was hustled away by campaign staffers and employees of the Sentinel Hotel before reporters could reach her to ask about Conger’s remarks.

Wehby’s campaign manager said later she was on her way to another campaign event.

“I’m not sure just what happened, but it was bizarre,” Conger told reporters afterward.

The forum excluded the three other Republican candidates on Tuesday’s primary ballot: Mark Callahan, an information technology consultant from Salem; Tim Crawley, a lawyer from Portland, and Jo Rae Perkins, a former Linn County Republican chairwoman from Albany.

The winner will face Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley of Portland, who seeks a second six-year term.

Still a race

It was Wehby, in her opening statement, who broached the issue of an intensified campaign spotlight when she said she explained to one of her sons why she would give up her career as a pediatric neurosurgeon to run for public office.

“It’s really ratcheted up in the last four weeks” as a poll put her ahead of Merkley, she said. The poll by the Vox Populi firm founded by Republicans, had her up by 1 percentage point over Merkley.

MONICA WEHBYThe only recent independent poll, conducted by DHM Research for Oregon Public Broadcasting, did not match either leading Republican against Merkley. But the poll did conclude that while twice as many voters sampled had a favorable view of Merkley in comparison with those opposed to him, about a third of the 400-member sample had no opinion or did not know him.

The poll also had Merkley less than 50 percent support, suggesting he could be vulnerable.

Conger, who unseated a Democratic incumbent in the Oregon House in 2010 and was re-elected in 2012, said a Republican can beat Merkley — but not if there are questions about the Republican.

“The more questions that surround her candidacy — the more issues that are out there – the more material is provided for her opponent in the general election should she be the Republican nominee,” he said. “That puts a greater risk that we would lose — and I don’t want to waste that opportunity.”

Wehby, a newcomer to politics, has raised more than $1 million to enable her to broadcast commercials. Conger, who has raised about a third of that amount, has been unable to get on the airwaves. These amounts exclude third-party spending for and against the candidates, including money spent by Miller and Nevada businessman Loren Parks on advertising against Conger. Conger has been the beneficiary of spending by Oregon Right to Life, which is opposed to abortion.

Friday’s faceoff was the only public one between Conger and Wehby, excluding their joint appearance March 7 at the Dorchester Conference, an unofficial gathering of Republicans. Wehby rejected an offer by Portland television station KGW and The Oregonian for a one-to-one meeting.

“She seems to be campaigning away from the public in a controlled environment,” Conger said. “That will not work in a general election.”

The overall return rate of ballots as of Thursday was 17.8 percent, according to the Oregon secretary of state. Still, Conger said, that means many Republicans can return ballots by the deadline Tuesday. “I think it’s still a race,” he said.

Tough stance on Russia

Although Conger and Wehby showed some differences, they generally agreed on key issues. On health care, both criticized the Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama in 2010 and enrolled 8 million Americans for coverage by March 31.

On federal forest lands, both preferred a House-passed plan to put half of Western Oregon acreage into a trust for timber production and county payments, rather than a pending Senate plan that would continue federal management.

On immigration, both resisted a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people in the United States without documents.

On Ukraine, both criticized Obama for not taking a tougher stance against Russia, which annexed the Crimean Peninsula.

Wehby did favor abolishing the electoral college, which is based on states, and choosing the president by popular vote. Conger opposed it.

peterwong@portlandtribune.com or (503) 364-4431, ext. 326, or twitter.com/capitolwong


Politico: Wehby ‘stalked’ former boyfriend

Here is a more detailed story, based largely on an account on the Politico website, about the police report on alleged stalking by Monica Wehby.

Monica Wehby, a Portland physician and a leading candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, was accused by her former boyfriend in a 2013 police report of “stalking” her.

The report, disclosed in a story on the Politico website, also said that Andrew Miller complained about Wehby entering his home without permission and “harassing” employees of Stimson Lumber Co., where he is president and chief executive.

Wehby has raised over $1 million, far more than state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend, excluding other spending on their behalf. She has not run for public office before.

Miller and Nevada businessman Loren Parks contributed $106,000 for broadcast and other ads aimed at Conger. The Democratic Party of Oregon has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission asserting that the spending by Miller, pegged at $31,000, was not truly independent of Wehby’s campaign – an accusation denied by Wehby’s campaign.

The Politico story said Miller filed the report with Portland police in 2013, near the end of a two-year relationship with Wehby.

According to the report filed by officer Brent Taylor, Miller “told me that he wanted to initiate a police report because Wehby has been ‘harassing’ his employees and ‘stalking’ him. He told me that he intended to get a stalking order tomorrow against Wehby. I asked Miller what Wehby had done specifically to make him desire to get a stalking order. He told me that Wehby has showed up at his home uninvited about 5 times within the last 10 days.”

Miller said he did not proceed to obtain such an order. The report adds: “Miller told me that the last few times he has observed as Wehby knocked on the doors and rang the door bell repeatedly for the duration of about 10 minutes before finally leaving. Miller told me that tonight Wehby did the same thing as she has done the last few times. However, this time Miller told me that Wehby walked around to the back of the house and tried the door handle. Miller told me that after Wehby discovered that the door was unlocked she entered the residence and attempted to find Miller.”

Wehby, in a statement to Politico, downplayed the incident.

“A year ago I went through the process of concluding a relationship,” she said. “That relationship ended amicably, and while I’m not pleased that it has been deemed newsworthy, I guess that is the cost of challenging the political status quo.”