U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley will be swinging by the mid-valley on Thursday for town hall sessions in both Benton and Linn counties (see the attached box for times and locations for both sessions).
We're always pleased to see members of Oregon's congressional delegation take the time for these town hall meetings, to talk about doings (or, in this case, the lack of doings) in Washington, D.C., and to take questions from constituents. This is especially praiseworthy in that some members of Congress, wary of meeting the electorate face-to-face, have chosen to skip these sessions entirely or to do them via social media or the telephone.
At this week's sessions, Merkley will get the usual variety of questions, which may include queries about the senator's presidential aspirations.
There's no doubt that Merkley has his eyes on a run for the presidency, and he hasn't made much of a secret about it: He confirmed in June that he was thinking about running. And he's made several trips since March to New Hampshire, site of the nation's first presidential primary.
Merkley's national profile has slowly risen, especially during his second term, when he has become a face of the opposition to President Donald Trump. His trips to Texas this year, to examine the conditions facing migrant children who have been taken away from their parents by the administration, gave him a national platform as well.
But it would be a big stretch to consider Merkley a front-runner in what likely will be a crowded race for the Democratic presidential nomination. A weekend story in The New York Times outlined how other Democratic hopefuls already are hard at work sketching the outlines of their political operations. The story mentioned 11 possible candidates, including five (count 'em, five) Democratic U.S. senators, but didn't include Merkley.
To be fair, Merkley is facing a hurdle that the other candidates aren't facing: Oregon has a law that bars candidates from running for more than one paid office in the same election. If he decides to seek re-election to the U.S. Senate, he would have to run for that office in 2020. Which means, under Oregon law, he couldn't run for president.
Or, if he decided to run for president in 2020, he wouldn't be able for run for re-election to the Senate.
News stories in Willamette Week reported that Merkley had made quiet inquiries among legislative leaders about possibly changing the law, but found little appetite to do so and dropped the effort. Since then, he has not said whether he's leaning toward a presidential run or running for re-election to the Senate.
In theory, Merkley would have until the March 2020 Oregon candidate filing deadline to decide. The problem with that is waiting until then would leave Merkley hopelessly behind other Democratic hopefuls, who will be firing up their campaigns in the next three months or so. (That's right: The presidential campaign for 2020 already is in full swing.)
Merkley might be hoping that the Democratic race becomes so chaotic that no one has emerged as a front-runner by that time and that voters are searching for a fresh face. That seems to be a long shot.
He might also be hoping that the eventual nominee gives him a shot at the vice presidential slot. But that's unlikely: The presidential nominee likely will be looking for a vice presidential candidate hailing from a battleground state, likely in the Midwest.
Our guess is that Merkley will read the tea leaves and opt for a third term in the Senate, where he would be a heavy favorite for re-election. But as we learned in 2016, the road to the White House can be filled with all sorts of surprises. (mm)