Albany's Perkins gets shot at Merkley for U.S. Senate seat
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Albany's Perkins gets shot at Merkley for U.S. Senate seat

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For the first-time, Albany’s Jo Rae Perkins has made it to the general election.

The 45-year Albany resident has been involved in local Republican politics for decades, but congressional and senate primary bids had fallen short. Until now.

Perkins, 64, won a convincing victory May 19 in the GOP primary race for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Jeff Merkley. Perkins and Merkley, who was first elected in 2008, will square off in the fall.

“Running for the U.S. Senate or U.S. House is often a marathon, not a sprint,” said Perkins, who answered questions largely via email. She said her recent run of political activity was critical to her success as well as endorsements from Oregon Right to Life, the Taxpayers Association of Oregon, radio commentator Lars Larson, the Redmond Patriots and Republican candidates Alek Skarlatos (U.S. House District 4), Mike Nearman (Oregon House District 23) and Bill Post (Oregon House District 25).

“And of course, the voters who felt that I am the candidate who would have a better chance of winning the Senate seat against Senator Jeff Merkley,” Perkins said.

Perkins won 49.28% of the Republican vote statewide, with Paul Romero Jr. taking 30.31% and Robert Schwartz 11.10%. Merkley was unopposed in the Democratic primary and sailed through with more than 98 percent of the vote. Perkins faces some daunting math in the fall given that 567,000 Democrats voted in the primary as opposed to 358,000 Republicans.

Perkins polled slightly better in Linn and Benton counties than she did statewide, winning 53.6% of the Linn vote and 54.0% in Benton.

Merkley won the seat in 2008 with a narrow (48.90% to 48.55%) victory against Republican incumbent Gordon Smith. Merkley won re-election in 2014 with a 57.50% to 36.87% win against Republican Monica Wehby. Perkins finished fourth in that 2014 GOP primary with 2.82% of the vote.

Perkins, who spent just a shade more than $30,000 in the primary, noted that campaigning in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak posed significant challenges.

“The biggest challenge was figuring out how to reach voters,” she said. “We were scheduled to attend Republican Central Committee and women’s groups meetings in quite a few counties on the west side of the Cascades to the coast. We were also in the midst of putting together a larger gathering for voters who do not attend the county Republican meetings. Of course, those were all cancelled.”

Perkins relied on Zoom meetings hosted by a few of the Republican Central Committees and held “many multi-stream events which were broadcast via Zoom, Facebook, Periscope and YouTube live.”

Amid the COVID-19 shutdown Perkins did tons of personal campaigning, responding to “virtually every message, phone call, text, and email no matter the topic.”

Voter concerns

Key issues for those who got in touch personally, Perkins said, were her pro-life views, her support for “medical freedom” against “forced vaccinations” and her support for President Donald Trump.

“The other issue which resonated with voters is how we can reduce the size of the federal government and specifically the overreaching laws, rules and regulations which affect the natural resources industries,” Perkins said.

Perkins said she is hopeful that there will be debates with Merkley during the fall campaign but had no estimate at how much she will spend between now and November. And she recognized that the virus might determine what kind of campaign she runs and how much traveling she will be able to do. The message, however, won’t change.

“Oregonians should have a U.S. senator who will fight for every one of their constitutional rights such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to peaceably assemble, the right to own firearms, the right to be secure in their persons, and so much more no matter where in Oregon they live or their political persuasion,” Perkins said.

“We need a U.S. Senator who will work on behalf of every Oregonian according to the duties of a U.S. Senator, outlined in the U.S. Constitution. And a U.S. senator who is more concerned about waste, fraud, and abuse, than voting to confirm impeachment of our president on unfounded facts.”

Perkins said that the virus could wind up a big issue in the fall, “but not in the way many people think. It all depends on how Governor (Kate) Brown handles the reopening of Oregon.”

Perkins said that Brown “has done a mediocre job.”

“She appears to have little concept of what it takes in Oregon for small businesses to make ends meet (and) she showed little concern for the small business owners. It appears Gov. Brown has picked winners and losers. In the meantime, thousands of Oregonians are still without income, compounded by the Oregon Employment Department’s malfunctioning and failing computer system. It is time to allow adults to be adults and reopen Oregon!”

Perkins added that “I do not agree 100% with how the federal government has handled the COVID issue, specifically the information coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes for Health. They seem to be more interested in creating undue fear in people.”

Perkins was critical of the NIH and the CDC for “withholding” the reported positive results of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), an anti-malarial drug that the Trump administration has promoted for use against the virus. Trump said he has taken the drug. The Food and Drug Administration has recommended against its use against the coronavirus.

The Q factor

Perkins received an outpouring of media attention after her primary victory because of her involvement with and alleged support of QAnon, a controversial conspiracy theory about a plot for “deep state” elements that are involved in a pedophile network of Satan-worshipping cannibals who have infiltrated every level of government and the mass media.

Believers follow “Q,” an anonymous person who claims to be in a high-level government position and who leaves vague clues about supposed future mass arrests that never happen.

“I stand with Q and the team,” Perkins said in a Twitter video on election night. “Thank you, Anons, and thank you, patriots. And together, we can save our republic.”

Her campaign retracted Perkins’ endorsement of QAnon the next day, May 20, and Perkins said in a new video she “would never describe herself as a follower.”

A day later, on May 21, Perkins went against her own campaign, telling ABC News she was “literally physically in tears” at having to read the statement.

In her email responses to this reporter, which were received Thursday, Perkins said that “Q is simply one source of information I read. In addition to Q posts, I read information and study courses from Hillsdale College and I read the Washington Post, among other publications. We need to focus on the issues facing Oregon and the country.”

The experience, Perkins said Wednesday in a brief telephone conversation, led her to be concerned about the “shark-infested waters” of political campaigns in 2020. She also asserted, “I’m not a crazy lady.”

In the email exchange when asked how QAnon might be utilized during her campaign, Perkins said “There is nothing to emphasize or discuss.”

“My campaign is about saving our republican form of government,” she said in her closing remarks in the email thread. “Our focus is on the amazing beauty of Oregon and its vast diversity. We live in Oregon because we love all that Oregon has to offer, no matter where in the state we live. Our message is about bringing people together and realizing we have more in common than people realize. We will work on what is positive and deal with the negatives by reducing the wasteful spending in many federal agencies.”

She also noted that she is formulating policies to address the high cost of medical insurance, immigration and homelessness and that she plans to post them on her campaign website “in the very near future.”

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-812-6116. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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