Saying it was time to restore the United States to “the country the Founding Fathers envisioned,” a former chairwoman of the Linn County Republican Party on Friday became the first challenger to Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley in the 2014 election.
Jo Rae Perkins of Albany announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in a series of public appearances, including a Friday morning appearance at the studios of Albany radio station KGAL.
She also planned Friday appearances in Eugene, Salem and Wilsonville.
Perkins served as the GOP chair in Linn County from January 2009 to November 2012. In the 2010 election, she ran for Albany mayor, but was defeated by Sharon Konopa.
Perkins said she made the initial decision to run for a congressional seat in 2009, but said her love for politics is “something that’s been inside me for years.” She recently graduated from Oregon State University with a bachelor’s degree in political science; before returning to college, she was a financial planner and adviser.
She made only one reference to Merkley in her opening comments, but declined to attack the freshman senator directly. “I’ve got better things to do,” she said.
In general, she said she stands for a smaller federal government and states’ rights. She said she would work to eliminate the federal budget deficit. She said she was a strong supporter of the Constitution’s Second Amendment, which protects gun ownership rights, and the Fourth Amendment, which offers protections against illegal searches and seizures.
She has signed the “Contract from America,” an agenda of conservative proposals developed in 2010 by tea party activists. Among other items, the Contract from America encourages senators and congressmen to identify the constitutionality of every new law; to simplify the federal tax system; and to work to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Merkley is up for re-election for the first time since he defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Gordon Smith in a close 2008 election.
Republican strategists have said they think the 2014 election might be their best opportunity to unseat Merkley, noting that it isn’t a presidential election year. The smaller election turnouts in off-year elections could help minimize the 181,000-voter edge Democrats hold among Oregon registered voters.
Merkley already has collected $1.8 million for his re-election bid.
A variety of other names have been mentioned as possible challengers to Merkley, but Perkins is the first one to officially announce her candidacy.
The Oregonian newspaper reported that two other Republicans have filed with the Federal Elections Commission, Karl P. King and Mark Allen Callahan, but neither has formally launched a campaign.
Perkins discounted a reporter’s suggestion that she doesn’t have much statewide name recognition yet: “I actually have grass-roots support around the state,” she said, and vowed to rely on what she called a grass-roots campaign: “I’m doing things totally differently,” she said.
But she acknowledged that, assuming other Republicans with higher statewide profiles decide not to challenge Merkley, she could claim a campaign advantage by being the first candidate out of the gate.
Perkins is married to her high school sweetheart, George, a self-employed carpet installation contractor. They have two adult children and five grandchildren, with another grandchild due in November.