Republicans are crying foul over an eleventh-hour flurry of press reports that Dr. Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon and the frontrunner in Oregon’s Republican Senate primary, was labeled a “stalker” in a year-old police report published Friday by Politico.
The police report details a 2013 incident in which Wehby’s ex-boyfriend, timber executive and GOP donor Andrew Miller, called the police after Wehby came to his Portland home, knocked on the door for 10 minutes, and then let herself in through a back door. Miller told the police that Wehby had been to his home at least 10 times that week and also was calling employees at his company inappropriately.
Miller now says he regrets calling the police and that he and Wehby not only are friends but that he is supporting her Senate campaign. Indeed, he is helping to fund a six-figure outside spending effort to bolster her campaign against her socially conservative opponent, state House Rep. Jason Conger.
Hours after the Politico report broke, The Oregonian published the 911 call that Miller placed, in which he tells the dispatcher that he and Wehby had just ended their relationship and she was “very, very upset and angry.”
No candidate wants to be described as “very, very upset and angry” in any forum, but for a female candidate whose first campaign ad was called “Trust,” being pictured as an unhinged, scorned lover could be devastating.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee pushed back against the stories Friday afternoon, labeling the entire episode a Democratic effort to destroy Wehby ahead of Tuesday’s primary and accusing Democrats of waging a war on women of their own against Wehby.
“In this situation, the person who filed the police report admitted that they overreacted, that they were responsible, that he was responsible, and that the couple ended their relationship on an amicable note and remain friends to this day,” said Brad Dayspring, communications director for the NRSC. “The insinuation that a respected professional woman who has performed over 7,000 surgeries on children is somehow less of a professional or a candidate because of this kind of petty tabloid story is ridiculous.”
Dayspring also called the stalking story “a shining example of why talented, intelligent women often are reluctant to run for public office.”
But as salacious as the stalking angle to the story is, no national women’s groups have come to Wehby’s defense to call the story sexist or even unfair, including the National Organization for Women, which once criticized Newsweek for running an extreme close-up photo of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) on its cover. The Women’s Campaign Fund and Name It. Change It., a group founded to highlight examples of sexism in campaigns and campaign coverage, did not respond to a request for comment.
Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, said that at this point in political campaigns, just about anything in a person’s past is fair game, no matter the candidate’s gender.
“When you are heading into Election Day, to the extent that your opponent has any information that would lead voters to question your leadership, your competence, your integrity, or your empathy, it’s fair game,” she said. “And although this particular case makes Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction look particularly salient, if a male candidate had engaged in behavior that could potentially be used to make him look unstable, we’d be just as likely to see that in the news.”
Jim Moore, an assistant professor of political science at Pacific University, said the impact of the stalking story four days before the election will have less of an effect in Oregon because as many as 40 percent of voters may have already cast their ballots in the state’s vote-by-mail system, which requires that ballots be received—not just postmarked—by the secretary of state’s office by Tuesday.
Moore also said he considers the current polling in the Senate race unreliable because the GOP primary electorate has historically been so unpredictable. But he said he believes that both Wehby and Conger would have a tough time knocking off incumbent Sen. Jeff Merkley in November.
“Merkley hasn’t done anything that really raises questions about him,” Moore said. “In general elections in Oregon, we have not had a Republican win in a decade, and there’s no reason to think that’s going to happen now.”
As news of the stalking allegations followed Wehby on Friday, she and Conger appeared at a candidate forum at the City Club of Portland. Wehby did not address the stalking story directly and left the venue without answering reporters’ questions about it, but she did say during her remarks that one strength of her candidacy for November would be as a female candidate running against a Democrat.
“They can’t use that war on women stuff with me,” she said. “They can’t say I hate women and children, puppy dogs and ponytails, and all of the other things that Republicans are supposed to hate.”