The next statewide election isn't until November 2008 — a year and five months from now. So why are Oregon Republicans acting as though they're in the home stretch of a campaign year?

The next statewide election isn't until November 2008 — a year and five months from now. So why are Oregon Republicans acting as though they're in the home stretch of a campaign year?

Two revelations last week show just how determined — or desperate, depending on your point of view — the GOP is to take back the state House and to re-elect U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith next fall.

First came the news that the House Republican Caucus in Salem already has spent almost $70,000 this year on direct mail, radio ads and automated phone calls targeting Democratic legislators in swing districts. This, mind you, while the Legislature is still in session.

According to The Associated Press, sources on both sides of the aisle say such blatant partisan warfare is unprecedented in Oregon during a legislative session. And this was supposed to be the session where lawmakers reached beyond partisan bickering and did the people's business while acting like adults.

Then there was the letter that Oregon Republican Party Chairman Vance Day sent to Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who heads the Democratic National Senatorial Committee, the body charged with finding and supporting Democrats in Senate races around the country.

First, Day's letter crows that "every potential first tier opponent of Senator Gordon Smith has declined to run ... ." Then it gets to the real point — slinging mud at two "lower-tier" Democrats who haven't even decided to run yet.

After bashing Portland businesswoman Eileen Brady for parking tickets and a history of not voting in local elections, among other horrifying transgressions, Day turns on State Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, for his votes in favor of tax increases later overturned by voters.

"While I would welcome him into the race," Day tells Schumer, "you must dread that possibility."

It's fair to ask who's dreading what. If Day really is licking his chops at the prospect of a Bates candidacy, why try to dissuade Schumer from backing one?

The cynical observer might conclude that Day sees the only Democrat so far in the race — Portland activist and attorney Steve Novick — as no threat to Smith because he lacks name familiarity and a history of elected office. One might also suspect that Smith, despite his bundles of campaign cash and incumbent standing, is very, very worried after watching the drubbing Republicans took at the polls last year, in Oregon and across the country.

Whatever the reasons, the House GOP Caucus and the state party organization clearly are playing hardball before the season has even started.

And don't even get us started on the presidential campaign, which has been under way now for months.

It's going to be a long, long year and a half. And it's going to get ugly before it's over.