sounds like a candidate for the U.S. Senate, but the key, he thinks, to a successful bid is presenting a new vision for how a senator must act if Americans are going to "take back" control over their government.

That's the challenge facing the former Jefferson Public Radio talk-show host from Ashland during his two-week tour around the state geared to share his progressive vision with friends and potential supporters. Golden's tour comes at time when the incumbent he hopes to challenge, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., announced he has already amassed $3.5 million in campaign donations.

Undeterred, Golden is spending time with Democratic stalwarts in living rooms in Eugene and Portland, the state's two population centers that analysts call must-wins for any Democratic candidate.

"I am trying to assess whether my vision for the state is the same size as a lot of other people's," Golden said in a telephone interview Monday, taking a break from a casual evening with potential supporters in the Portland suburb of Hillsboro. "I want to know what they see as the future for their kids and grandkids, and they're telling it," he added.

Golden, 57, who spent nearly 10 years as the host of JPR's "The Jefferson Exchange," said he will likely announce in August whether he will try to unseat Smith. A crowded field of other Democrats that also lacks the big-name punch of the state's leading contenders is expected to compete for the party's primary nomination.

Golden said if he decides to take on Smith, he will ask Oregonians "to think really big" in terms that have less to do with the amount of money they can contribute. Golden knows he can't outspend Smith, but believes a vision of substantial change could unseat him.

Among questions the former Jackson County commissioner is asking: Do people want slow, incremental change because they believe that is all voters will support, or do Oregonians agree with him that a dramatic shift is necessary "for this nation to thrive and maybe survive"?

"I am interested in a really large-scale vision because I think it's too late for Band-Aids," Golden said. "We've come to accept way too quickly that we can't have what we want for our country."

He added: "I look down the road at what I want to leave to my kids and their kids, and I just don't think we can get there with a timid, incremental approach. I think we have to go big."

Smith vulnerable?

Smith, 54, since being re-elected handily in 2002 when he defeated Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury with 56 percent of votes, has come under intense fire from Oregon's Democratic machine, which criticizes him at every turn for his support for most Bush administration policies.

"His positions are diametrically opposed to Democrats in Oregon," said Marc Siegel, a spokesman for the Democratic Party of Oregon.

As a member of the moderate Republican Main Street Partnership, Smith too has drawn the ire of conservatives in his party for voting in favor of expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and for supporting legislation to extend hate crimes to protect gays and lesbians.

"He may have aligned himself with moderates in the Senate, but he hasn't voted with them," said Paulie Brading, chair of the Jackson County Democratic Central Committee.

She added, what Smith has in his campaign coffers will pale in comparison to what he will ultimately raise to help paint himself as a moderate.

"I think Senator Smith can come up with $12 million bucks easily," Brading said. "He knows that he's vulnerable and he's going to run hard."

Still, Rogue Valley Republicans stand by Smith.

"He votes his heart and his conscience and what's best for his district," said Medford-based GOP strategist Bill Maentz, questioning in an earlier interview whether Smith is as vulnerable as Democrats like to say he is.

Voters, he said, appreciate Smith "sticking his neck out" for his constituents.

Other Democrats

Among those also considering jumping into the May 2008 Democratic primary: State Sen. Alan Bates of Ashland; Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley of Portland; and Eileen Brady, co-founder of Portland-based New Seasons Markets.

Steve Novick, 44, the only Democrat formally campaigning in the race, said Smith's fundraising total is "entirely predictable" and evidence of his commitment to the rich and powerful.

"When Oregonians see those numbers they'll realize that they're reflective of the fact that he represents the interests of the people who own the corporate jets that he spends so much time on," he said.

Novick, who raised $190,000 from more than 600 donors during the second quarter, said he hopes to raise at least $1 million before the general election.

As for Golden, he said it is clear to him that he won't have the largest campaign war chest, so he is focusing on building "an extraordinary" volunteer base.

covers politics for the Ashland Daily Tidings. You may reach him at csrizo@hotmail.com.