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Many outside Oregon have written off the state as a perennial loss for conservatives, owing to its deep blue liberal reputation. This reputation is brilliantly depicted in the IFC show Portlandia, which many Oregon natives view more as a documentary than a comedy. But the politics of Oregon are a much more complex stew of several influences, including a deep libertarian streak and strong conservative values - especially outside the Portland metro area. Indeed, it's only been since 2008 since we had a Republican Senator - Gordon Smith, who was defeated by Portland liberal Democrat Jeff Merkley.
Since Merkley's election, he's been almost invisible except for the perennial questions surrounding whether he really represents the whole state, or just Portlandia. He's started to publicly surface in 2013, however, as he attempts to gear up for reelection for the first time as a US Senator. For instance, he's tried to increase his relevance by taking a prominent stance in the NSA domestic spying controversy - a stance that has met with, shall we say, mixed results. He's also tried to portray himself as a champion of the people in the IRS scandal - although it's questionable whether he's done more harm than good.
So it's safe to say that, at best, Merkley's statements have been all over the map as he tries to position himself as relevant and as an advocate of the people. And that also applies to his stance on Obamacare. As the implementation of Obamacare hits some unexpected snags, Merkley continues to be on the side of Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama.
The National Republican Senatorial Committe (NRSC), along with Oregonians across the state, are all noticing:
- “I think it's important for us to recognize and acknowledge this is working the way it's supposed to.” (President Barack Obama, 6/7/2013)
- “The implementation of this is fabulous." (Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, 6/27/2013)
- "ObamaCare has been wonderful for America." (Majority Leader Harry Reid, 7/14/2013)
- Merkley said, "overall [ObamaCare] ‘allows you to control your own future, and that’s as American as apple pie.’” (Justin Much, “Merkley Talks Health Care, Taxes,” [Salem, OR] Statesman Journal, 3/20/2011)
- A report published by the non-partisan Society of Actuaries shows that ObamaCare will increase the costs of medical claims in Oregon by more than 14%. (Society of Actuaries, Cost of the Newly Insured Under the Affordable Care Act, 3/26/2013)
"The fact is that ObamaCare raises health care costs, increases taxes, and is forcing employers to cut back on jobs without achieving its stated objective of insuring all Americans - and Jeff Merkley promised otherwise," said NRSC Press Secretary Brook Hougesen. "Jeff Merkley proudly stood with Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and made promises about the law that have been broken, but he still refuses to listen to millions of Oregon women, workers and families who want ObamaCare permanently delayed and dismantled so that the rising cost of health care can finally be properly addressed."
A quick search for the term "merkley obamacare" produces a constituent letter that typifies the effects of Obamacare on the average Oregonian family:
March 13, 2013
The Tax increases on Passive income in ObamaCare cost me my job. My Employers will have to pay the tax instead of being able to employ me. My In-Laws are not rich, and wish they could continue to employ me, but thanks to the tax increases, that is not an option.
BALANCE THE BUDGET!
STOP WASTING MONEY!
STOP COSTING PEOPLE THEIR JOBS!
Hillsboro , OR
It remains to be seen if a truly conservative and competitive candidate can be recruited to run against Merkley in 2014, and whether the NRSC can deliver the goods in terms of support and proper messaging to appeal to Oregon's unique voters. One thing is clear, however - Jeff Merkley is out of touch with those voters of Oregon who aren't tofu eating hipsters wandering the Pearl District of Portland in search of their next wheat grass smoothie.