SALEM &

Jeff Golden of Ashland, considered a liberal stalwart, was rebuked Wednesday for his stinging assessment of the Democratic candidates competing for the chance to unseat U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., in 2008.

In a Daily Tidings story published earlier this week, Golden, a former Jackson County commissioner who had considered entering the Senate contest himself, said Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley and political activist Steve Novick have both said "precious little" about how they would "make a real difference."

Instead, the two Portlanders have focused on "what's wrong" with Smith, a strategy that's not going to be enough to defeat the second-term Republican, warned Golden, who is expected to endorse the reform-minded candidacy of Medford native John Frohnmayer, a former Republican who entered the Senate race on Wednesday as an Independent.

Calling Golden's appraisal "somewhat selective," Meredith Wood-Smith, a former Rogue Valley political activist and now the chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Oregon, said because Gordon Smith is the incumbent that makes the race about his record.

"He wouldn't have two such great candidates running against him if his record wasn't so suspect," she said in a telephone interview. "We know that he says one thing when he's back here in Oregon and votes another way when he's in D.C," noting that he votes on the side of President Bush about 90 percent of the time.

As for Golden's contention that the two Democratic candidates have yet to define what they stand for, Wood-Smith said he is misinformed. Both Merkley and Novick, she said, are crisscrossing the state "laying out their vision," talking with Oregonians about such important issues as the Iraq war, health care and the economy.

Jake Weigler, Novick's campaign manager, took umbrage with Golden's remarks, saying that Novick is the only candidate so far to offer a "clear outline" of what he would seek to achieve in the U.S. Senate.

"Mr. Novick is the only one who has offered details in this race, and a quick review of Jeff Merkley and John Frohnmayer and for that matter Gordon Smith's campaign Web sites offers little substance," Weigler said.

As recently as last week, he said Novick, a former U.S. Justice Department environmental lawyer, endorsed federal legislation aimed at reducing climate-altering greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

"To my knowledge, Mr. Merkley has not offered any specific policies to deal with climate change nor has Mr. Frohnmayer," Weigler said. "And of course, Gordon Smith seems to be debating himself about whether global warming is even a problem."

Merkley's campaign manager, Jon Isaacs, meanwhile reacted by saying Golden is dead wrong in his assessment of their campaign, and any suggestion that there are no differences between what Smith has done for Oregonians and what Merkley would do is misguided.

"There is no question that on the issues most important to Oregonians &

Iraq, energy independence, health care and jobs - there is a clear difference from where George Bush and Gordon Smith have taken us and where Jeff Merkley would," Isaacs said.

He added that while Smith has supported federal tax breaks for oil companies, Merkley supported a "historic alternative energy" proposals approved by the 2007 state Legislature.

"Any suggestion that there are no differences between them is just not correct," Isaacs said.

As for detailed policy papers, he said they are coming, noting that Merkley has been in the race for all of five weeks.

Vance Day, the Salem attorney who heads the Oregon Republican Party, said each of Smith's potential challengers represent the far left wing of the Democratic Party and as such pose little political threat.

He took aim at Frohnmayer, specifically, criticizing him for "pandering to the left" by calling for President Bush's impeachment in his campaign announcement Wednesday.

"It is a reckless and wrong thing to do," Day said, adding that if Frohnmayer wants to take the "toxicity" out of politics, as he says that he does, calling for the president's impeachment is not the way to do it.

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