Conger giving up House Dist. 54 seat in U.S. Senate bid

Says crowded field can be good; likely to endorse GOP candidate to succeed him

BEND, Ore. - With the proverbial cat out of the bag, state Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, confirmed Friday he's running for Democrat Jeff Merkley's U.S. Senate seat – and will likely endorse a fellow Republican seeking the House District 54 seat he'll have to give up to mount that campaign.

Conger told NewsChannel 21 that when it comes to giving up the hard-won District 54 seat, "of course it's a factor" he weighed in deciding whether or not to join the now-crowded (five candidates so far) field of Republicans who hope to unseat Merkley, who will be seeking a second 6-year term in 2014.

"Whoever runs and wins in District 54 in 2014 will be representing me," Conger said. "I care a lot. I'll gladly endorse someone if I think that they have something to offer" in representing the residents of Bend in Salem.

Conger acknowledged that he had hoped to not prematurely announce his candidacy before a pair of kickoff rallies in Oregon City and Bend next Tuesday. But with reporters calling and questioning, the word nevertheless is out, and Conger said he still expects to file his candidacy by that day.

And with nearly five months until the March 4 filing deadline, Conger said he knows there could be even more than the five declared or filed candidates so far facing Oregon Republicans on the May ballot.

"It's a free country," Conger said, adding that encouraging as many as interested to engage in the process is a good thing.

But as political observers in Oregon know full well, the last thing a Republican taking on a Democrat incumbent senator in this state needs is to be scuffed, or even bloodied by a bruising primary fight with fellow Republicans.

Conger hopes they avoid can that, no matter what happens.

"My hope and expectation is that the campaign will be about representing difference choices to Republican voters on who can best serve the state" in Washington, D.C. – a place not held in too high a regard these days.

"Obviously, there are potential disadvantages to a crowded primary, and potential advantages – opportunities to get out, build a more effective campaign organization," Conger said. And he knows about tough fights, having unseated a Democrat incumbent (Judy Stiegler) in the 2010 Oregon House race.

Word of Conger's plans became public Thursday as Bend Republican businessman Sam Carpenter announced his Senate bid.

Conger's brief media note said he "will make an important announcement regarding the upcoming 2014 campaign cycle." He'll speak at 10 a.m. in Oregon City and 5 p.m. at the Shilo Inn in Bend, both events "open to the public and press."

Conger, an attorney and former congressional aide, was elected to the Oregon House in 2010 and this year served as assistant minority leader.

The other Republicans who have filed for the Senate seat include Salem IT consultant Mark Callahan; and former chair of the Linn County Republican Party, Jo Rae Perkins. Portland Democrat Pavel Goberman is also in the race.

Merkley first was elected in 2008 and has said he plans to seek a second term.

Carpenter, 63, announced Thursday he has filed with the Oregon secretary of state to run for Merkley's seat.

Carpenter owns the Bend telephone company Centratel. It employs about 40 people and offers a service that he says ensures that customers don't end up with a voice mail if they call for a doctor or other emergency service after hours.

Carpenter also started Kashmir Family Aid, an organization that helps survivors of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. He wrote a book called "Work the System: The Simple Mechanics of Making More and Working Less."

He tells OPB his passion is fixing things: "My main thrust is for less government and more freedom and more opportunity for the people of this state and for the country."

Carpenter has loaned his campaign $100,000 and says he's going to start raising more funds.

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