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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.

Perennial Candidate Mark Callahan Heads For His Biggest Stage Yet. But How?

Campaign photo
Republican Mark Callahan will face incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden this fall.

If it's an election year, Mark Callahan's name is probably on the ballot in Oregon. Since 2010, he's run -- and lost -- in races for county commission, school board, state House and U.S. Senate.

But this year, Callahan stunned political observers when he came out on top of a four-way contest to win the GOP nomination to face incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Ron Wyden this fall.

Who saw this coming? Not Callahan.

"It was kind of surprising to me, too,” he said.

The Willamette Week kerfuffle

Until now, Callahan was best known in political circles for getting kicked out of an endorsement interview.

It's worth taking a look back at that moment. It was the 2014 Republican primary for U.S. Senate. That's when Callahan was one of five candidates trying to unseat Democrat Jeff Merkley. Four of those candidates were at the Portland offices of the Willamette Week newspaper. A fifth, Jo Rae Perkins, joined the meeting by phone. And when Perkins was talking, Mark Callahan noticed something on the notepad of one of the journalists across the table.

"I see what you're writing down there,” Callahan said at the time. “You just wrote down blah blah blah blah blah for everything that Jo Rae said. Jo Rae is a respectable woman. Why are you not respecting her by writing blah blah blah blah blah on your notepad?"

After a tense exchange, the newspaper had had enough.

"That's two strikes,” a Willamette Week reporter said.

"Who do you think you are?” Callahan retorted.

"Okay, you may leave now. Go ahead. You're done here,” the Willamette Week reporter said.

Callahan got up and left but not before calling the editorial board a bunch of disrespectful, thin-skinned liberals. The exchange went viral and Callahan soon found himself a guest on Fox News.

"It's not something I could stand for,” Callahan said in the interview. “I'm a man of honor and integrity and character. And it's just something that I had to defend her honor. It just came from within me. It's just something how I was raised.”

‘Nobody knew anything about any of these candidates’

Callahan said that while he's surprised he won the nomination this year, he does have a theory.

"It had a lot to do with my name recognition that I developed over the years running for other offices, in addition to the statewide name recognition that I got in 2014 with the Willamette Week blah blah blah thing,” he said.

Could that have been enough to propel him to victory this time around?

"It's almost impossible to say,” Pacific University political analyst Jim Moore said.

Moore said that while Callahan was far behind his two main rivals in fundraising, ultimately none of the candidates mustered a full-on statewide campaign.

"It may have been something as simple as people thought his name looked better than other people when they were looking at the ballot,” Moore said. “Because nobody knew anything about any of these candidates."

One of the people Callahan defeated was central-Oregon businessman Sam Carpenter. His theory is that Callahan was the only candidate who stated in the voters pamphlet that he was an abortion-rights opponent.

Carpenter said he feels the same way but added, ”failure to put it in the voting pamphlet was a problem."

Carpenter said he'll probably vote for Callahan in the fall but stopped short of endorsing him.

Prospects in November

So how does Callahan intend to defeat incumbent Democrat Ron Wyden? To begin with, Callahan said he'll focus on fiscal issues, despite being, in his words, ”Pro-life, pro-God and pro-gun.”

“It sounds like a bumper sticker, I know,” Callahan said.

Callahan used the Biblical story of David and Goliath to describe his race against Wyden, who's been in Congress since 1981 and has $10 million of cash on hand. As of now, Wyden is showing no signs of being concerned with Callahan.

Wyden's campaign declined to comment for this story.