Jeff Golden announced Thursday that he will not run for the U.S. Senate seat held by two-term Republican Gordon Smith, using the occasion to criticize the Democratic Party for perpetuating a "broken" political system.




In six weeks of exploring the possibility of a Senate run with friends and potential supporters, Golden, an Ashland resident, said he found that Oregonians are "fed up with the political manipulation and shortsightedness of both political parties."




Our "problem is not Senator Smith but rather the rigged political system he's been serving the last 11 years, and that the solution involves more than replacing him with a Democrat," Golden said in a lengthy statement. "That message hasn't set well with campaign professionals and party officials."




Speaking of Democratic Party insiders, the former Jefferson Public Radio morning talk-show host said: "They generally recognize Oregonians' restlessness but aren't encouraging a hard look at how and why the system's broken, perhaps fearing that people might be distracted from the simple task of voting for their candidates next year."




The 57-year-old Golden, a Jackson County commissioner from 1987 through 1990, was host of JPR's "The Jefferson Exchange" for nearly a decade until his then-political aspirations became known publicly on June 27, the same day his contract expired and wasn't renewed.




Golden, who left JPR on mutually agreed upon terms, said Thursday that he is "completely open" to returning to JPR, which has yet to name his on-air replacement.




In addition to writing several books, including "Forest Blood," a novel set amid the Northwest timber wars, and a political nonfiction book entitled, "As If We Were Grownups," Golden appeared in the 2003 feature-length 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.




Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley, a favorite of national Democrats and the party establishment; and fellow Portlander and attorney Steve Novick, who has reported raising nearly $200,000 for his largely grass-roots campaign through June are the only two announced candidates seeking the Democratic party nomination against Smith.




State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, mulled a bid but decided not to run, citing "unfinished" legislative work in Salem toward universal health coverage by 2011. The Democratic Party has tried to recruit several well-known Oregon Democrats but, at least so far, to no avail.




Smith is seen by Democrats as particularly beleaguered this election cycle in part because of his loyalty to President Bush, who is wildly unpopular with Oregon's Democrat-leaning electorate. Smith is also being targeted by the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.




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




Smith, 54, who was handily re-elected to a second term in 2002, defeating Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, D-Bandon, with 56 percent of votes, has raised $3.5 million for his re-election bid, according to the most recent campaign finance filings.




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