Bend Republican Jason Conger joins US Senate race

October 15, 2013 04:58 pm

OREGON CITY — A state representative from Bend has joined the race for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Jason Conger, 45, announced his bid Tuesday, saying the economy is sputtering through an uneven recovery and he will focus on job creation if he's sent to Washington D.C. He said Merkley has been "missing in action" during his first term.

"Sen. Merkley has busied himself with obscure procedural technicalities, like filibuster reform," he said. "I don't know about you, but I doubt anyone here really cares about filibuster reform."

Though he lacks statewide name recognition, Conger is the highest-profile Republican — and only elected official — to enter the race so far. At least four other candidates are expected to join him on the GOP primary ballot. House Republican Leader Mike McLane introduced Conger at his campaign announcement in Oregon City, a sign he's the front-runner.

Conger, however, acknowledged he's a longshot to beat Merkley in a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans. No Republican has won a statewide race in Oregon since 2002, and it's tough to beat an incumbent not tainted by scandal.

The Merkley campaign, which has raised $2.3 million, released a statement immediately after Conger's announcement.

"Senator Merkley is focused on doing the job Oregonians want him to do: making this country work for middle class people again by fighting to create good paying jobs, make college more affordable, and cracking down on the predatory practices of Wall Street and the big banks."

Conger devoted part of his speech to his life story, which includes overcoming poverty to graduate from Harvard Law School, and touched on the traditional Republican theme of self-reliance. He said safety-net programs, though necessary, must be revamped to put recipients on a path toward taking care of themselves.

"We can all agree that our safety net currently, probably, traps people in a cycle of dependence," he said.

Conger did not mention hot-button socials issues such as abortion and gay marriage. But abortion-rights groups quickly denounced the candidate who has described himself as "strongly" anti-abortion and co-sponsored a bill that would have blocked abortions after 20 weeks.