SALEM &

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith might as well have a target painted on his back. Democrats within the state and across the nation are lining up to see if the Republican's only West Coast senator can be knocked from his post in 2008.




Smith is seen by Democratic strategists as particularly beleaguered this election cycle because of his loyalty to President Bush and Oregon's blue state voting record.




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




Smith's potential vulnerability combined with the reticence of major Democractic leaders from the state to jump into the race has produced a growing line of candidates like expressing strong interest in seeking the Democratic primary, including former JPR Talk Show Host Jeff Golden, and state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, both from the Rogue Valley.




Most recently, Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley confirmed Thursday that he recently traveled to the East Coast to discuss a possible run against Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith in 2008, and that more talks could be forthcoming.




Merkley said the meeting in New York came at the request of U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who as chairman of the DSCC is in charge of recruiting possible challengers to take on Smith next year.




Merkley said he told Schumer and others with the committee he would give the matter serious thought after the 2007 Legislature adjourned for the year.




"They contacted me; I was honored; and I said after the session we could have a further discussion," the Portland Democrat said in an interview.




With the Legislature having adjourned Thursday, Merkley said he's now going to spend time talking with family members and others about whether to mount a challenge against the well-funded Smith.




Portland attorney Steve Novick and businessman Ty Pettit, also of Portland, have both formally launched campaigns. Eileen Brady, who co-founded New Seasons Markets, a Portland-based chain of seven natural food stores, says she is pondering a run.




Novick, who has begun campaigning in earnest, said he expects that more contenders will jump into the race.




"There is nothing wrong with that," said Novick, who will be campaigning in Ashland today. "I am going to get the (Democratic) nomination because I am the best candidate but I am going to have to prove that, just like they will have to do."




Into the fire




Interest in the race has been building in the Valley since Bates expressed strong interest a couple of weeks ago. That interest dominated the news this week as news of Golden's exploratory efforts led to his resignation Thursday from JPR.




While Golden, who has been out of politics for nearly 20 years, may be considered a longshot, his departure from JPR increases the possibility that he will officially join the race soon. In an interview with the Mail Tribune earlier this week, Golden said he is considering the impact of having his private life become a public part of a high-profile campaign.




In addition to writing several books, Golden appeared in the 2003 feature documentary, "The Same River Twice," which chronicles a 35-day, clothing-optional rafting trip that he and 16 others made in 1978 down the Colorado River.




The movie, which looks back at five of the rafters two decades later, could become a treasure trove for political adversaries. Among other things, the movie's footage paints a naked Golden as an adulterer, exposing Golden's marital infidelity to Cathy Shaw, who later became a longtime mayor of Ashland.




Golden, who left the county commissioners in 1990 to run for state Senate, took a job as chief of staff for then-state Senate President Bill Bradbury, D-Bandon, after narrowly losing to fourth-term moderate Republican incumbent Lenn Hannon of Ashland.




Shaw is the chief strategist for Bates and remains on good terms with Golden. Her political prowess &

she is the author of "The Campaign Manager: Running and Winning Local Elections" &

would undoubtedly be sought by both men should they decide to run. Shaw said ealier this week she would be "torn" and would likely have to sit the race out should both Bates and Golden formally announce their respective intentions to run.




Strong local candidates




Local Democratic stalwart John Doty of Medford criticized remarks on some left-leaning blogs that Southern Oregon is offering up second-tier candidates in Bates and Golden, and predicted Thursday that Golden's candidacy would gain traction, even among some moderate Republicans.




"He had a range of listeners, and they seemed to respect who he is and what he's about, even when they didn't agree with him," Doty said in a telephone interview. He added that the 57-year-old Stanford graduate is in a "great position" to proceed toward the May 2008 Democratic primary.




"He's articulate, has a connection with his listeners, and he is not in politics," Doty said. "He's on pretty solid footing."




covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com. Associated Press Staff Writer Brad Cain contributed to this report.