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Gordon Smith To Face Merkley

Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley staved off a vigorous campaign challenge from political activist Steve Novick in the Oregon Senate Democratic primary, and will be facing Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) in the general election.

With 85 percent of precincts reporting, Merkley defeated Novick 45 to 41 percent. Novick, who won much free publicity for his disability (he's 4 foot 9 and has a hook for a left hand) carried the Portland area vote, but lagged behind Merkley throughout most of the rest of the state.

"This race has made me a better candidate, ready to go toe-to-toe with Gordon Smith," Merkley said in his victory speech.

Merkley was the favored candidate of the Democratic establishment both in Oregon and Washington. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee poured about $300,000 into the race for advertisements and phone banking on Merkley's behalf in the campaign's final weeks.

"Jeff Merkley can win in November, and I hope the party will now unite behind his candidacy," DSCC chairman Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

The state's lone contested House race to replace retiring Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Oregon) was a bit of a surprise. Businessman Mike Erickson was able to defeat former gubernatorial nominee Kevin Mannix in the Republican primary - even as Erickson spent much of the campaign's final week fending off allegations that he paid for an ex-girlfriend's abortion nearly a decade ago.

The state's leading pro-life group, Oregon Right to Life, said it would not be endorsing Erickson in the general because of his past personal controversy.

Erickson defeated Mannix by a comfortable six-point margin, 50 to 44 percent - with 80 percent of precincts reporting. He will face Democratic state senator and veterinarian Kurt Schrader in the November.