News that Jeff Golden of Ashland is considering a run for U.S. Senate has touched off a round of political maneuvering in Oregon on Wednesday.

Golden leaves JPR —

Golden, an author and host of JPR's weekday radio show "The Jefferson Exchange," has said he is weighing his options, and people close to the former Jackson County commissioner say it is unlikely that he will announce his intentions before September.

The news also turns a political spotlight onto Southern Oregon, where Democratic state Sen. Alan Bates of Ashland is also "seriously considering" challenging U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in 2008.

Bates said Wednesday that he will not make a decision for several weeks.

Both Bates and Golden have lengthy track records of public and political involvement in the Rogue Valley. Also, Golden's ex-wife, Cathy Shaw, is Bates' chief strategist. But the familiarity between the two Democrats should not be misconstrued as an alliance. Golden told the Mail Tribune a Bates bid would not deter his own, which Bates' himself seconded.

"I wish Jeff the very best," Bates said, "but this is a matter of finding a viable candidate whose values are in line with the values of Oregonians."

With his record as a right-of-center Democrat, Bates said he would have a better chance than Golden at unseating Oregon's junior two-term U.S. senator.

"I am much more moderate than Jeff Golden," said Bates, adding that his longtime friend has yet to define himself to the voters after being out of the political spotlight for some 20 years.

Bates said his own gravitation to the political center has left him as unpopular with the far right, partly because of his support for gay rights legislation, and has been alienated from the left. Bates carried a bill this year to allow agents of the state to use dogs to catch problem cougars and proposed that a "modest" timber harvesting plan could be an economic boon for Southern Oregon, both of which incited criticism from local environmentalists.

"I'm hoping that makes me representative of where most of the people of Oregon are politically," Bates said of his centrist philosophy.

Shaw's own feelings on the week's political maneuvering perhaps reflects that of many Rogue Valley residents in that she said she would be torn if both men jumped into the race. If that happens, Shaw said she would likely sit it out and not work for either man.

Shaw said Golden has dreamed of running for federal office for many years. But she conceded, however, that Bates looks better on paper, being a family physician, a Vietnam veteran and a moderate rural Democrat.

"Each of them brings such different things to the table; each has his own strengths and his own weaknesses," she said. "One thing is for sure, it would be a very clean, no negative campaigning Democratic primary."

A crowded field

Stacey Dycus, a Bend-based Democratic political strategist, said a contested primary could "generate a lot of excitement for Democrats, and that would not be a bad thing."

Dycus, who ran Democratic state Sen. Ben Westlund's campaign for governor in 2006 as an Independent, said Bates and Golden have their work cut out for them should they decide to run.

Like Westlund &

a Tumalo Democrat &

the two men are Portland-Metro outsiders, she said. "If you're not from Portland," she said, "you have to work a lot harder and spend a lot of time there," adding that they would almost have to move to Portland to get elected, given the sheer number of meetings and appearances they would need to make as statewide candidates.

Unlike Dycus and the chairwoman of the Jackson County Democratic Party, Paulie Brading, Bates said that a crowded Democratic field may not be the best thing for the May 2008 primary.

Already, attorney Steve Novick and little-known entrepreneur Ty Pettit have launched hometown campaigns in Portland. Portland businesswoman Eileen Brady, who co-founded New Seasons Markets, has announced she too is pondering a run.

"People just jumping in is not appropriate," Bates said.

Democrats, he said, ought to coalesce around a formidable candidate who can challenge Smith on such bedrock Democratic issues as his Iraq war policies, his opposition to Oregon's voter-approved "Death with Dignity" law, and for "doing little" to improve access to health care for 400,000 uninsured Oregonians.

"'Where have you been, Mr. Smith, on these important issues?' is the question to be asked," Bates said.

He added, "Obviously, Senator Smith is politically vulnerable right now, but a lot can change in a year and a half, and taking down an incumbent is always difficult &

but there is an opportunity here."

Members of Oregon's Democratic congressional delegation have all said they are not interested in challenging Smith, and neither is the governor, state treasurer, the secretary of state or the state superintendent of schools &

all Democrats.

There are murmurings, however, that Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley of Portland is quietly mulling a run.

So, who is best suited to take on Smith? Bates said that would be former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber, a fellow physician.

"Most Democrats would be pretty excited and very supportive to see John Kitzhaber take this race on," Bates said.

Smith targeted

Along with three other Republican senators, the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is targeting Smith, seen by Democrats as particularly beleaguered this election cycle , in part because of his loyalty to President Bush who is wildly unpopular in the Democrat-leaning state.

"Gordon Smith is one of the most vulnerable senators in the country," DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller said Thursday, adding that unseating Smith is among the committee's "highest priorities.

But Republicans say Democrats, particularly the one's considering to run so far, will be defeated. Bryan Platt, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Central Committee, said the Democratic Party lacks a candidate who can unseat Smith.

"It would be hard enough for Alan Bates let alone a local boy like Jeff Golden to pull it off," Platt said. "Jeff Golden is way out of his league for trying to compete against Gordon Smith."

As for Bates, he said, the Medford physician has "ulterior motives" for publicly considering a U.S. Senate bid. Platt suspects that Bates is solely trying to boost his statewide name recognition in hopes of running for governor in 2010 &

a notion that Bates has denied.

covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. He can be reached at csrizo@hotmail.com.