MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Meeting in their final televised debate, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith and Democratic House Speaker Jeff Merkley did not quite agree to drop negative ads, but Smith chided a national Republican group for running one that makes fun of Merkley for the way he ate a hot dog.
In a debate that was televised in Medford, Klamath Falls and Eugene, Smith said it was wrong for the Republican Senate Campaign Committee to run the ad, which shows video of Merkley continuing to eat a hot dog while trying to answer a question asked by a citizen about Russia invading Georgia.
"I regret all the money flooding in from outside Oregon that besmirches all of us," Smith said Monday in response to a question about what he regretted about the campaign. "Jeff Merkley is a good person. I think I am a good person. I think it is wrong to belittle somebody that way."
Merkley responded with a quip that Smith got one thing right, "I really do love hot dogs," and challenged Smith to call on a group he said was associated with President Bush's former political adviser Karl Rove to stop a $2 million "smear campaign."
Smith shot back that Rove has nothing to do with his campaign, and noted that Merkley has not stopped a group backing him from running ads accusing Smith of trying to privatize social security - a charge he denied.
The only Republican senator on the West Coast, Smith has been targeted by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as it works to strengthen its slim majority in the Senate.
Trying to overcome a strong anti-Bush sentiment and a strong majority of registered Democratic voters in the state, Smith continued to run away from the Bush administration, often appearing to be trying to be more of a Democrat than Merkley.
Smith repeatedly noted his close working relationship with Oregon Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, who has endorsed Merkley, and praised the President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal for building hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River that remain an important source of electricity for the region.
"I hope none of you ever buries a child," Smith said, his voice thickened with emotion, as he noted his decision to split with the Bush administration to call for an end to the war in Iraq. "It leaves a hole in your heart."
Merkley repeated his characterization of Smith as voting with the Bush administration 90 percent of the time, adding that if Oregonians want change from the last eight years, they need to vote for a Democrat.
"To change Washington, we need to change the Senate and to change the Senate we need to change senators," Merkley said.
On Iraq, Merkley noted that he was against it from the start.
"I stood up two months before the war and said we should be sending diplomats into Iraq, not bombs," Merkley said. "Be slow to go to war and be fast to take care of our sons and daughters when they come home. We got it exactly backwards from the Bush administration."
Smith noted that working with Wyden he was able to restore federal timber payments to Oregon counties by inserting it in the federal economic bailout bill - a bill Merkley had said he would have opposed.
Merkley responded that Smith had never been able to restore the payments while Republicans controlled the Senate, adding that Wyden "got it done" under a Democratic majority.
"We need to have a son of a timber family to fight for timber payments," said Merkley, who was born in timber-dependent Douglas County and whose father once owned a mill.