Until recently, Oregon Republican Senate hopeful Monica Wehby was known mostly as a rare chance for the GOP hopeful to be competitive in a blue state, and a candidate with a campaign ad quickly dubbed one of the best of the year. But on the eve of the state's primary Tuesday, Wehby's Republican and Democratic opponents are seizing on another way to define her -- as an unstable stalker.
On Monday, The Oregonian published a 2007 police report about an altercation between Wehby and her soon-to-be-ex-husband Jim Grant, in which he accused her of "ongoing harassment." The couple has accused each other of acting violently, with Grant admitting to it: "Jim said over the last year Monica has pulled his hair, slapped him and thrown items at him. Jim said he had been violent with her in the past approximately three years or so ago."
This follows revelations that in April 2013, Wehby’s ex-boyfriend, Andrew Miller, called the police to complain that she was “stalking” him and had repeatedly entered his home uninvited. Politico reported on the incident Friday, on the morning of the primary debate. On the same day, The Oregonian published audio of the call.
Though Miller said at the time he would seek a protective order against Wehby, he didn’t, and now says he regrets the call. “There was a week there or so when we were breaking up that people can be emotional. And me included,” Miller told Politico.
Wehby said in a statement, “A year ago I went through the process of concluding a relationship. That relationship ended amicably, and while I’m not pleased that it has been deemed newsworthy, I guess that is the cost of challenging the political status quo.”
There’s another bend in this convoluted tale: Earlier this month, the Democratic Party of Oregon filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, alleging Wehby’s campaign was improperly coordinating with a super PAC to which Miller is a major donor. The group has run ads attacking Wehby’s primary opponent, Jason Conger. Miller has also donated to Wehby’s Senate campaign.
Wehby's campaign has denied the allegations.
At the Republican debate Friday, Conger said the incident raised questions about Wehby's judgment. The right-leaning Daily Caller referred to Wehby’s “weird past” and questioned whether the Republican establishment was properly vetting candidates.
Before the report about Wehby's ex-husband, National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring was treating the disclosure about Wehby's ex-boyfriend as an opportunity to deflect Democratic claims of a "war on women." Dayspring blamed Democrats, whom he claimed had “waged a war to personally destroy Republican Senate candidates, particularly strong Republican women.” He added that Democrats had “resorted to vicious personal attacks that would almost certainly classify as sexist by their own definition.” He did not say whether he himself would classify it as sexist.
Asked whether focusing on Wehby’s brush with the police over her breakup was sexist, an Oregon Democratic stategist said, "That's laughable.”
The late-in-the-race specter of Wehby as a Fatal Attraction-like spurned woman will likely be blunted by the fact that the state has mail-in voting that has been going on for weeks. (The last day to mail in primary ballots was May 6, though they can also be dropped off at a municipal clerk's office through Tuesday evening.)
But if Wehby wins the primary, the revelations could hurt her in the general election A poll recently released by a NewRepublican.org, a group advocating for Wehby, showed Wehby with a wide lead in the primary overall, including with the 37 percent of voters who had already mailed their ballots.
The primary winner will face first-term incumbent Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. Republicans have been gleeful at the prospect of a competitive Senate contest in a largely Democratic state.
Wehby, the director of pediatric neurosurgery at a Portland children’s hospital, was an early and prominent opponent of the Affordable Care Act, the rollout of which has been particularly rocky in Oregon. She has a catchy slogan, “Keep your doctor. Change your senator,” and a heartwarming ad, “Trust,” which gained national attention. It portrays Wehby as the compassionate savior of a tearful woman who was told to terminate a much-wanted pregnancy because of a fetal spine disorder. “We have a twelve year old today because of Dr. Wehby,” Lexi Liebelt says.
The ad also neatly elides the fact that Wehby says (at times nebulously) that while she is personally opposed to abortion she does not want the federal government involved in a woman's decision -- making her the subject of a barrage of attack ads from social conservatives in the primary.
If Wehby makes it to the general election, Democrats face a tricky path, portraying a relative moderate as an extreme who would help put the Senate in the hands of the GOP. They have pointed to her uncertain position on contraceptive coverage on employer insurance plans, currently before the Supreme Court. (In a radio interview, Wehby said the coverage was “more of a benefit package than actual insurance for real health problems.”) She also has sent some very mixed signals on how she would vote on Supreme Court nominees. Here’s how the Willamette Week described it:
"We asked all five candidates in this race a fairly simple question: which U.S. Supreme Court justice most closely mirrors your values? After one candidate named Justice Anthony Kennedy, Wehby piggybacked on the answer. After Conger gave a ringing endorsement of arch-conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, Wehby awkwardly changed her answer to Scalia as well. (Outside the interview, she told us she really meant to say Chief Justice John Roberts, but that she actually likes Justice Samuel Alito best of all.)"
In other words, it's not too late to define Wehby, since it's not clear if she has defined herself.