MADRAS, Ore. -

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., is running for re-election, and on Saturday he held three town hall meetings across the High Desert to answer questions about the challenges facing Oregon and the country.

It was the sixth such visit to Central Oregon for Merkley, who was elected in 2008, unseating Republican Gordon Smith.

“I come every year,” Merkley said. “It's very helpful to hear directly from folks about experiences they're having, whether it's health care, jobs, economy -- what's working, what isn't.”

Not everyone in attendance was pleased with the job Merkley has done at the Capitol, especially when it comes to the biggest controversy: health care reform.

“It's interesting that he would come and not say anything about it,” Maurice Langsev said. “He followed the Democrats over the cliff like a bunch of sheep when they voted for this bill.”

Merkley didn't just hear criticism from voters at the Madras event -- he was openly challenged by Republican primary candidate Mark Callahan of Salem, one of several candidates in a May primary field that also includes state Rep Jason Conger of Bend.

“He's not willing to stand up and do what it takes to preserve the freedom of our country, and I'm going to challenge him on that every step of the way,” Callahan said.

Walter Meininger attended the town hall meeting to see what the senator had to say about the current national debt.

“I think that it was a real nice history lesson about part of what's going on, but it has nothing to do with today or now,” Meininger said afterward.

Merkley said he's been leading the effort to restore the bipartisan functions of the Senate, and insisted that he's still the right guy for the job.

“I do think people across America want to see the House and the Senate end this polarizing partisan paralysis, and replace it with a problem-solving culture,” Merkley said.