PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – Oregon’s Tuesday primary features only a couple of major races and ballot measures of statewide interest, but they are important ones – including choosing a Republican opponent to run against Sen. Jeff Merkley in November and deciding on the future of genetically modified crops in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon.
Here is a rundown of what is at stake:
Republicans around the country are hoping to take over the majority in the Senate. While they face long odds in Oregon, they hope President Barack Obama’s unpopularity combined with the disastrous rollout of Cover Oregon, the state’s health insurance exchange, can make the race here competitive in November. Pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby of Portland has tried to stake out moderate positions that won’t hurt her with Democratic and unaffiliated voters come November. Her chief rival, state Rep. Jason Conger of Bend is running to her right, hitting her especially hard on social issues.
The primary seems merely a formality for both John Kitzhaber, the Democratic incumbent, and Dennis Richardson, a Republican state representative seeking to unseat him. Neither is facing a serious challenger for his party’s nomination. With the primary out of the way, the campaign will begin in earnest.
A fight for the soul of the Republican Party is playing out in a handful of state House primaries. Candidates from the party’s populist wing are promising to represent the voices of conservatives looking for a firebrand to lead the charge against Democrats. They’re battling Republicans backed by the business community and other establishment interests. The tensions are especially apparent in four districts centered in Silverton, Dallas, Keizer and Pendleton.
Voters in two counties in southern Oregon will weigh in on a growing national debate over genetically modified foods. Organic farmers, who can’t use genetically modified crops, are seeking to ban them from Jackson and Josephine counties. Though it’s a local issue, the measure attracted national interest and money. The two campaigns raised $1.3 million, mostly from outside Oregon. Agriculture companies have fought back hard against efforts around the country to increase regulations on genetically modified foods.