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Upstate mud splatters us again

How do you know there’s an election campaign underway in Oregon Senate District 3? Check your mailbox for nasty attacks on one candidate or the other — attacks that are not generated or paid for by either candidate, but that come from outside interests seeking to sway voters and snatch a Senate seat away from the opposing party.

It’s as predictable as the fall chill in the air, and it’s getting tiresome.

Senate District 3, encompassing Democratic Ashland, Republican Medford, Phoenix, Talent, Jacksonville and the southern end of the Applegate Valley, is Southern Oregon’s only swing district. As a result, it is closely watched and greatly coveted by partisan interests in Salem.

Held for several years by Democrat Alan Bates until his sudden death in 2016, the seat switched to the R category when Republican Alan DeBoer defeated Democrat Tonia Moro in a special election that fall. Moro’s campaign aired some attack ads, but they didn’t sway enough voters to prevent DeBoer from winning a narrow victory.

Bates, too, eked out re-election bids after being attacked in negative ads paid for by Republican Party interests upstate. The 2010 race between Bates and Dave Dotterrer went to a recount after Republican Party-financed attack ads targeted Bates late in the race.

This year, independent attack ads are targeting both Democrat Jeff Golden and his opponent, Republican Jessica Gomez, who are running an otherwise amicable campaign for the seat left open after DeBoer decided not to seek re-election. One mailer takes quotes out of context from a book Golden wrote about his experiences in 1971 as a 20-year-old college student working on a cooperative farm run by black sharecroppers in Georgia. The quotes seek to paint him as dismissive of women in the workplace.

That mailer includes no information about who paid for it. The only clue is an Arlington, Virginia, return address.

We have another clue, however: An email was brought to our attention from the Marion County Republican Party, passing on a request for female actors to appear in a video to be shot by the Leadership Fund, the political action committee of the Oregon Senate Republican Caucus. The script for the video repeats the same out-of-context quotes from Golden’s book. It’s not clear whether the video ever got made or distributed.

The Leadership Fund did identify itself on a mailer that proclaimed “Golden is clowning with us” and said he rejected PAC funding while accepting PAC-financed ads on his behalf.

Ads targeting Gomez have originated with the Southern Oregon Priorities PAC, attacking her for her stance on abortion — she says she supports abortion rights but also favors Ballot Measure 106, which would ban public funding of abortions, which a mailer calls a “back-door ban on abortion.”

Golden says he has demanded that PACs supporting him stop sending mailers without his permission. Gomez, too, has denounced PAC-funded attacks, saying, “We don’t need that kind of stuff in this race,” and “Those kind of materials don’t belong down here.”

We agree. PACs dumping mud into local races just reinforces public disgust with politics in general. Southern Oregon voters don’t need upstate interests telling them what to do. Such tactics have a history of backfiring on the candidates they purport to help. You’d think PAC organizers would wise up.