- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 15, 2014

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley and Republican challenger Monica Wehby stuck to familiar themes as they met in their only debate of the campaign.

Meeting Tuesday night at television station KOBI in Medford, Wehby repeatedly criticized Merkley as a “rubber stamp” of the Obama administration.

“He is so extreme, he is even too extreme for Oregon,” she said. “We need somebody to represent all of Oregon, not just one segment.”

Merkley repeatedly criticized Wehby for getting her economic plan from former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Koch brothers, businessmen who have poured millions of dollars into conservative causes, and her health plan from political adviser Karl Rove.

“This campaign is really between Oregon values on the one hand and Koch brother values on the other hand,” he said.

Wehby’s toughest criticisms - that Merkley was not a true champion of the middle class, that he has been a bystander on legislation to increase logging on the so-called O&C; lands, and that he has supported the Obama administration nearly all the time - did not appear to gain her the kind of breakthrough she needs to overcome Merkley’s front-runner status on the eve of mail ballots going out to voters for the Nov. 4 election.

Early on Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon and political newcomer, had figured strongly in the Republican strategy to win the six seats they need to take over control of the Senate, but a series of missteps has left her struggling.

The broadcast did not reach the Portland metropolitan area, but it was live-streamed on the TV station’s website.

Afterward, Wehby repeated her call for more debates, despite her refusal earlier in the campaign to accept one in Portland.

During one departure from the familiar, the candidates were asked to describe themselves. Wehby said just before the debate, her father had called, adding, “Daddy always said I was mule-headed. He said I was very stubborn, very determined. I think that’s true.”

Merkley said, “My friends would say I was tenacious and determined and sometimes taking on things that are a little bit crazy,” such as competing in a triathlon and trying to “take on big banks” as a freshman senator.

Merkley stressed his support for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 as a way to lift millions out of poverty. Wehby acknowledged after the debate there should be a federal minimum for entry-level jobs, but stressed that states should be able to set their own wage minimums. She worried that raising the minimum wage could kill jobs, while Merkley said he believed higher wages stimulated economies by giving consumers more money to spend.

On timber, once a mainstay of Oregon’s rural economy, Wehby said Merkley has largely been a bystander in the debate over increasing logging on the so-called O&C; lands in western Oregon, the focus of legislation by members of the state’s House delegation and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. After the debate, Merkley said he has been deeply involved in efforts to produce a bill that can move forward.

The House bill has stalled for lack of support in the Senate.

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