SALEM &

U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith upped the ante on what's already expected to be the most expensive political race in Oregon's history, announcing on Thursday that he had raised slightly more than $1 million in just the last three months.




Smith, the lone Republican from the West Coast in the U.S. Senate, has $3.5 million stockpiled for the campaign, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission for his campaign committee, Friends of Gordon Smith.




Party insiders think the price tag for the race could easily top $20 million, if Democrats can come up with a candidate who catches on with voters.




Matt Miller, of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee &

which sources have said might pour as much as $8 million into the Oregon race &

said Smith, "is going to need every dollar of that account and even more to defend his record of voting with George Bush 90 percent of the time."




So far, top-tier Democrats like Rep. Peter DeFazio of Eugene and former Gov. John Kitzhaber have taken a pass on the race, but House Speaker Jeff Merkley has said he is giving careful consideration to entering the fray.




Merkley is expected to announce his decision by the end of the month. A spokesman for Merkley's office had no comment on Smith's fundraising totals.




A slew of other Democrats, including two prominent names from the Rogue Valley &

former JPR talk show host Jeff Golden and state Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland &

have expressed strong interest in joining the race.




The $3.5 million that Smith has so far is not necessarily big money in a large state like New York or California. But in Oregon, with just one major media market, that's enough to buy plenty of television ads, direct mail and automated phone calls.




And it's about twice what Smith had raised at the same stage of the 2002 election cycle, suggesting that he's well aware of the shifting political dynamic in Oregon, which has been trending toward the Democrats.




"(The total) is a strong sign that there is a lot of support out there to re-elect Gordon Smith," said R.C. Hammond, a spokesman for Smith.




Between the beginning of April and the end of June, the Smith campaign spent about $330,000, most of it on fundraising, Hammond said. Smith was one of four Republican senators, along with Susan Collins of Maine, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Norm Coleman of Minnesota, to attend a series of recent fundraisers in Texas and Nevada. All four are considered vulnerable incumbents for 2008.




Smith has had several high-profile breaks with the GOP, including the recent announcement that he would sign on as a co-sponsor of a plan to order President Bush to begin pulling troops from Iraq within four months and end combat by April 2008.




Details on individual contributors to the Smith campaign weren't available Thursday. But contributions from political action committees are available, and show that Smith is getting contributions from some Northwest heavy-hitters, including $5,000 from Beaverton-based Nike, $6,000 from Hewlett-Packard, which has a large campus in Corvallis and $2,000 from Boeing, which has a heavy presence in Washington state.




Smith has also drawn contributions from big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, as well as from a clutch of insurance industry groups and from a political action committee run by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, called the "Big Tent" PAC.




Portland lawyer and political activist Steve Novick, the sole Democratic candidate who is already actively campaigning against Smith, had raised $190,000 by the end of June, from more than 600 individual contributors.




"(Smith's totals) are not a surprise," Novick said. "He has spent the past 11 years representing the rich and the powerful. This reflects his votes for the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy."