KATU-TV in Portland is reporting a stunning development in the Oregon Democratic Senate race: Outsider Steve Novick is leading insider Jeff Merkley by double digits in a recently completed poll.
The poll, conducted for KATU by SurveyUSA, found 23% supporting Novick, a Portland lawyer and progressive activist. Merkley, the speaker of the Oregon House, got only 11% - remarkably, trailing Eugene realtor Candy Neville by one point, although the difference is statistically insignificant.
The most significant poll finding at this point, six weeks away from the May 20 primary, may be the large number of undecideds - 40%. Gary Malecha, a political science professor at the University of Portland, speculated that many Oregonian Democrats haven't paid much attention to the Senate contest yet because they're focusing on the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the big prize.
The Merkley campaign, understandably, pooh-poohed the poll results. "I think there's a serious question about the legitimacy of that poll," said Merkley Communications Director Matt Canter.
Novick, just as understandably, was jubilant. "It's a very good day, and it's consistent with all the other polls we've seen," he said.
Novick appears to have boosted his appeal to Democrats with his TV ads, which poke gentle fun at his 4-foot-9 stature and the hook he has for a left hand, both the result of congenital defects.
"We think the people are looking for something a little different," Novick said. "And I'm little, and I'm different."