Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden eked out an 18,000-vote victory over State Sen. Gordon Smith in the Jan. 30 election to replace Sen. Bob Packwood. With the national media noting that environmental issues took center stage in the race, environmentalists have been quick to tout Wyden's victory as part of a backlash against the GOP's agenda.
Polls show that "green" independents and Republicans added to Wyden's urban support - the Portland-based veteran of the House of Representatives won virtually no rural counties.
After spending over $200,000 to defeat Smith, the D.C.-based League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club now plan to apply tactics learned in Oregon to the upcoming election cycle. In past years, they contributed a few thousand dollars to many campaigns; this year, they'll target key races.
The groups will likely return to Oregon for the Senate race to replace retiring Republican heavyweight Mark Hatfield. Probable contenders include Rep. Peter DeFazio, a strong environmentalist and Democrat who lost in the recent Senate primary to Wyden, and arch-conservative businessman Bill Witt, who says Smith was defeated because he didn't run far enough to the right.
Republicans immediately pointed out the narrowness of the victory in a state that has backed Democrats for president and governor for years. "The razor-thin margin ... in Oregon demonstrates there is no place in the country Bill Clinton and his Democrats can take for granted in 1996," Haley Barbour, chairman of the Republican National Committee told The New York Times. A Philadelphia Inquirer editorial agrees: "(Oregon) is loaded with tree-huggers and light on churchgoers."