Is Monica Wehby the Most Interesting Senate Candidate of 2014?

Some say a moderate Republican with no political experience can compete in Oregon.

Monica Wehby
National Journal
Andrea Drusch
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Andrea Drusch
May 18, 2014, 5:49 a.m.

Hours be­fore de­cid­ing to leave be­hind dec­ades of edu­ca­tion and train­ing to make a long-shot U.S. Sen­ate run, pe­di­at­ric neurosur­geon Mon­ica We­hby sat star­ing out the win­dow of her home of­fice in Port­land, Ore. Then she picked up the phone and called a cur­rent sen­at­or who might be as un­usu­al as her­self.

At 51, We­hby would likely be the first brain sur­geon to serve in Con­gress if she won. She’s a single moth­er of four, she’s nev­er run for of­fice, and she’s spent the last 16 years op­er­at­ing on chil­dren with high-risk brain con­di­tions. She’s also a Re­pub­lic­an who be­lieves abor­tion is a de­cision to be made between in­di­vidu­al wo­men and their doc­tors, and that mar­riage of any sort is a per­son­al de­cision.

We­hby’s coun­selor that day was more con­ser­vat­ive, but Sen. Tom Coburn could re­late pro­fes­sion­ally — the Ok­lahoma Re­pub­lic­an had twice left medi­cine to run for Con­gress. “When I was try­ing to make a fi­nal de­cision, I asked Tom, ‘How did you de­cide to take that jump?’ ” We­hby said. “He goes, ‘Mon­ica, you’re not leav­ing the kids, you’re go­ing to be tak­ing care of all the kids, all the Ore­go­ni­ans, the whole coun­try.’ And that’s what did it. He was the fi­nal push that this was the right thing to do.”

As red-state primar­ies push Re­pub­lic­ans fur­ther and fur­ther right, and as the parties seek “out­sider” can­did­ates but of­ten end up with gray­ing politi­cians, We­hby is un­like any oth­er GOP can­did­ate on the map in 2014. In Ore­gon, where the party hasn’t won a statewide elec­tion at any level in a dozen years, Re­pub­lic­ans are ex­cited about their chances with a mod­er­ate com­ing from out­side the Belt­way.

“Ore­gon mod­er­ates and in­de­pend­ent wo­men are go­ing to be ex­cited in a way they haven’t been ex­cited about a statewide Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate here in a long time,” said Elaine Frank­lin, an Ore­gon GOP con­sult­ant.

“Mod­er­ates have a hard time get­ting through Ore­gon primar­ies be­cause of the right-wing evan­gel­ic­al move­ment,” Frank­lin ex­plained. “But it’s al­most im­possible for a pro-life, an­ti­gay can­did­ate to win statewide.”

The race is still an up­hill climb. Ore­gon, like the rest of the mostly lib­er­al West Coast, is gen­er­ally hos­tile to Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ates, and fresh­man Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jeff Merkley is no easy out, des­pite win­ning of­fice by a razor-thin mar­gin in 2008. We­hby, a new­comer who hasn’t been vet­ted in a ma­jor race be­fore, has already been tagged with a few nag­ging ques­tions about her back­ground.

And she still has to win her primary Tues­day against state Rep. Jason Con­ger, who has cri­ti­cized her for be­ing in­suf­fi­ciently con­ser­vat­ive, though We­hby leads him in all re­cent polling.

“I’m run­ning as who I am,” she says. “I didn’t de­cide I’m go­ing to be this type of Re­pub­lic­an or that type of Re­pub­lic­an.”¦ It’s im­port­ant that the Re­pub­lic­an Party stay united. With so many big is­sues fa­cing the coun­try, we need to make sure the fisc­al is­sues are para­mount. We can’t ever win if we keep fight­ing among ourselves.”

“It hasn’t been an easy de­cision be­cause I do very much love what I do,” We­hby said of the ca­reer change. A sup­port­er of term lim­its, she plans to leave the Sen­ate in 12 years if elec­ted. At that point, medi­cine will have changed and We­hby’s tech­nic­al skills will be out of prac­tice, mak­ing a re­turn to the op­er­at­ing room ex­tremely dif­fi­cult.

Her lack of polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence has been both a bless­ing and a curse. Though she’s served on the board of trust­ees at the Amer­ic­an Med­ic­al As­so­ci­ation and spent plenty of time in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., loc­al pa­pers have called We­hby less than well-versed on a vari­ety of polit­ic­al is­sues. She also has the press dig­ging through her past. Politico re­por­ted Fri­day that she was once ac­cused of stalk­ing by her ex-boy­friend in 2013. We­hby said she wasn’t aware the man had ever filed a po­lice re­port, and both parties agreed the re­la­tion­ship was friendly now. (He is fin­an­cing at­tack ads against Con­ger, her Re­pub­lic­an op­pon­ent.)

We­hby’s med­ic­al work is also un­der scru­tiny, for a law­suit in­volving a moth­er who al­legedly had We­hby per­form un­ne­ces­sary med­ic­al pro­ced­ures on her chil­dren.

“People would al­ways ask me be­fore I ran, ‘Do you have any skel­et­ons in your closet? Be­cause if you do it’ll cer­tainly come out if you ran,’ ” We­hby said. “I found out that it doesn’t mat­ter if you have any skel­et­on in your closet, be­cause they just make things up.”

“I’m fas­cin­ated by the way people are just totally un­en­cumbered by the truth,” she ad­ded. “But I’m learn­ing to de­vel­op a thick skin.”

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