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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Oregon Legislature. This is a venue for political and policy coverage of the state government in Salem and its impact on the people of Oregon.

GOP State Representative Aims To Unseat Senator Merkley

Chris Lehman
Northwest News Network
Jason Conger speaks to supporters at a museum in Oregon City.

The partial government shutdown and possible default this week loomed over an announcement Tuesday from the highest-profile challenger in next year’s U.S. Senate race in Oregon.

State Representative Jason Conger of Bend is the latest Republican trying to unseat incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley.

Conger is an attorney in his second term in the Oregon House. He says he supports Republican efforts to overhaul the Affordable Care Act. But at the same time, he also doesn’t want the U.S. government to default on its debts.

He says he knows he's a long-shot in his race to win Jeff Merkley's Senate seat. Merkley is a former speaker of the Oregon House who's nearing the end of his first term in the U.S. Senate.

Conger took aim at Merkley during a campaign kickoff event in Oregon City.

"Those in Washington have forgotten what it's like to be an ordinary person, to be in the middle class, to be a working family," he said. "They've forgotten the challenges, the uncertainties and the struggles that we face. Sadly, Senator Merkley is part of that Washington crowd."

Conger grew up in poverty but went on to graduate from Harvard Law School. He'll face at least three Republicans in next May's primary. So far he's the only one with any elected experience