Gordon Smith, one of the most elegant and well-spoken gentlemen in the U.S. Senate, will be coming home to Pendleton this winter - the victim of an anti-Republican sweep that cost him a position he has held for two terms and eliminated Eastern Oregon's voice in the nation's most prestigious assembly.

As he became aware last Wednesday that Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley of Portland was pulling away on a tide of Multnomah and Lane County ballots, Smith held a tearful press conference at his home atop Pendleton's North Hill.

A veteran statesman, he reflected upon his service in the nation's capitol and called upon Oregonians to support the new administration and the state's new senator.

We would have expected nothing less.

Although Smith's opponent portrayed himself in terms of rural Oregon and blue collar roots, he is in fact, a graduate of David Douglas High School as well as Stanford and Princeton who still lives in Oregon's largest city. And while Merkley promises to represent all of Oregon, his support came not from rural Oregon - not even his boyhood home, Douglas County - but rather from the state's metropolitan areas.

Smith carried almost 80 percent of Oregon's counties including every county east of the Cascade Mountains. Merkley, on the other hand, carried just eight counties, but those are the ones that in terms of electing Oregon's leaders, make the difference.

As he stood in his study, reflecting on his career in Washington, Smith declined to speculate on his political future.

That wasn't surprising. At that moment, he chose to defer to Winston Churchill who once wisely observed "democracy is not always a polite employer, but its judgments must be respected and observed." On Wednesday, Smith would have been reeling from a stunning lesson in that regard.

But, Ted Kulongoski retires in two years and Oregon needs a new governor. In polling, Oregonians made it clear that among the two senatorial candidates, the one they respected and admired most was Smith. The difference in the senatorial race was not based upon respect or admiration, it was the product of a desire by American voters to sweep the capitol free of anyone on the right side of the equation.

And in the end, despite this national backlash, Smith almost pulled off a win in the Beaver state.

As a former president of the Oregon Senate and a distinguished statesman with a keen understanding of governance at both the state and national level, Smith suddenly offers Oregon the possibility of strong new leadership in 2010.

Republicans, who here-to-fore thought their cupboard was bare, suddenly find themselves in the company of a formidable potential candidate to lead this state two years from now.

Among the Democrats, Merkley might have been a possibility but he is now otherwise preoccupied. House Majority Leader Kate Brown would have been another. But she will be two years into her new job as secretary of state and vows she isn't interested, at least not yet. Kurt Schrader, another strong potential candidate, just won the House seat from the 5th District.

U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter DeFazio, who were both courted for the senate race, haven't indicated an interest in leaving the positions they now hold - particularly not for the world of the unknown where an element of risk is involved.

To our way of thinking, that leaves Gordon Smith at the head of the class.

The real question is whether or not he is interested.

Unsigned editorials are the opinion of the East Oregonian editorial board, comprised of Editor George Murdock, Associate Publisher Kathryn Brown, General Manager Wendy DalPez and Managing Editor Skip Nichols. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily that of the East Oregonian.

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