BEND, Ore. - The general election is still more than a year away, but Tuesday night, the race for the Republican nomination to seek Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley's seat began taking shape.
Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, made his run for the seat official with stops in Oregon City and Bend -- and that also opens up the campaign jockeying for Conger's House District 54 seat. which he must give up to make the Senate bid.
In Bend, more than 100 people packed into the Shilo Inn conference room to show support for the Republican. Conger told the crowd he's ready to fight for the poor and middle class -- because he's been there, he added.
"If you have, like me, you know how it feels when you can't pay the rent," Conger said. "To feel powerless to change things, when all you want to do is build a more secure future for yourself and for your family."
A majority of Tuesday night's speech focused on fixing programs aimed at helping those in need.
"We need safety net programs," Conger said. "But safety net programs that help people get out of poverty, not trap them in it."
Other issues the lawmaker talked about included a national energy policy and being better stewards of the forests.
Laurie Gould, chair of the Deschutes County Democrats, attended Conger's event.
"There were a couple of times where he sounded almost like a Democrat," Gould said.
But she says she wants to hear more.
"We can agree on a lot of things, that there are important issues that face the state of Oregon," Gould said. "But it's how you get there, and what role government has to help people solve their problems."
With Conger making a run for the U.S. Senate, his Oregon House District 54 seat is now up for grabs.
Knute Buehler, a physician, business owner and 2012 candidate for Oregon secretary of state, announced Wednesday he is filing paperwork with the state Election Division to form a political action committee to explore running for Conger's House seat.
"I discussed the possibility of running for District 54 with family and close friends.," Buehler said in a statement. "After much thought, I decided to take the next step and form an exploratory committee to build the resources and volunteer support needed to launch an aggressive campaign.
"I've lived in Bend for 16 years and Oregon most of my life. I'm committed to this city and I look forward to furthering the discussion of important issues facing our state and community."
Buehler said is planning to make a decision in the coming weeks.
Tuesday night, both sides of the aisle said they were waiting for candidates to come forward.
"There are so many talented individuals here that we have a very good pool of people to draw from," said John Philo, chairman of the Deschutes County Republican Party.
As for the Democrats, Gould said, "We do have several people that have indicated that they are taking a look at it."
NewsChannel 21 called around, and Conger's predecessor in the District 54 seat, Democrat Judy Stiegler, said she, too, is thinking about running to retake the post she lost to Conger in 2010.