In Dr. Monica Wehby, Republicans think they have a strong candidate to oust US Sen. Jeff Merkley (D) of Oregon – part of their strategy to regain control of the Senate.
Ms. Wehby is an attractive candidate in a state known for strong moderate Republicans – a pediatric physician without tea party baggage – who won her primary election this week.
But Wehby finds herself having to bat back reports of past domestic spats – one with a former husband, one with an ex-boyfriend. Nothing particularly salacious, violent, or illegal, mind you. Just break-ups that appear to have gotten a little out of hand on her part. Her ex’s aren’t making a big deal out of it.
At the very least, however, the stories have become a distraction for the Wehby campaign as it prepares to do battle with Sen. Merkley, a freshman senator who ousted Oregon’s last Republican in the upper chamber – two-term incumbent Gordon Smith (like Wehby, a GOP moderate) in 2008.
In a flurry of emails to reporters Friday, Wehby went on the attack – accusing the Merkley campaign of planting the story, then keeping it alive. Naturally, the Democrat denies that.
The race looks to be tight. Two polls cited by RealClearPolitics have very different results: Wehby ahead by four percentage points in one, Merkley ahead by 12 points in another. A third tracking poll cited by HuffPost Pollster has Merkley ahead by 20 points.
Perhaps more significantly, reports the Oregonian newspaper in Portland, “Voter returns [in the GOP primary Tuesday] show that Wehby's support levels dropped precipitously as elections workers counted mail ballots cast in the last few days of the election.” (Oregon elections are conducted entirely by mail.)
“Republican voters who cast their ballots in the last days of Oregon's primary – following news stories about Monica Wehby's ‘stalking’ incident – were less likely to support her in Oregon's GOP Senate primary,” the Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes wrote.
“Stalking?” That sound serious.
As first reported by Politico, Wehby was accused by her ex-boyfriend last year of “stalking” him, entering his home without his permission and “harassing” his employees, according to a Portland, Oregon police report.
Lumber company owner Andrew Miller said he considered getting a protective order against Wehby, the police report states, but did not seek such an order.
Earlier, Wehby and her husband at the time were going through a difficult divorce, including one episode when (according a 2007 police report) Wehby was said to have engaged in “ongoing harassment.”
In both these episodes, apparently, everybody cooled down and no damage was done.
No damage, that is, except politically – although to whom is not exactly clear.
In a statement this week, Wehby said: "Like a lot of women, I've gone through a divorce that was a very trying time for me and for my family. I'm deeply saddened that such a personal matter, which bears no relevance to my Senate campaign, has been used as a political weapon to attack my character."
Merkley has said he learned about the Wehby stories in the press, calling it a private family matter. But an Oregonian investigation showed that an employee of the Democratic Party of Oregon was the first person to request the April 2013 police report regarding Wehby’s breakup with her ex-boyfriend (who now supports her candidacy, as does her ex-husband).
This has opened the way for Wehby and her supporters to claim dirty politics and sexism.
Wehby is Democrats' “worst nightmare,” Wall Street Journal editorial board member Kimberley Strassel wrote this week.
“A nationally recognized pediatric neurosurgeon who was on the board of the American Medical Association, she got into this race to fight ObamaCare. She's a policy wonk, able to run rings around Oregon's junior senator, especially on health-care reform,” Ms. Strassel wrote. “She's pro-choice (personally pro-life) and supports gay marriage and medical marijuana – so the left can't hit her with the social-issue agenda. She's a fiscal conservative and a tort reformer – positions that hold appeal even among Oregon's more liberal electorate.”
That Oregon’s health insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act failed massively is a strong talking point for a Republican who draws on her experience as a medical doctor specializing on children.
And given at least one state Democrat’s apparent involvement in probing Wehby’s personal affairs for political purposes, the story gives a different slant to any “war on women.”
But at this point in political campaigns, just about anything in a person’s past is fair game, no matter the candidate’s gender, Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, told the Daily Beast.
“When you are heading into Election Day, to the extent that your opponent has any information that would lead voters to question your leadership, your competence, your integrity, or your empathy, it’s fair game,” Ms. Lawless said. “If a male candidate had engaged in behavior that could potentially be used to make him look unstable, we’d be just as likely to see that in the news.”