By Congressional Quarterly
A millionaire businessman from eastern Oregon, Smith became one of the state's most prominent political figures almost overnight by running two separate Senate campaigns in 1996.
He started the year by narrowly losing to Democrat Ron Wyden in a special election to fill the seat left vacant just a few months earlier by the resignation of Republican Sen. Bob Packwood following allegations of ethical and sexual misconduct.
But when veteran Republican Senator Mark O. Hatfield announced that he would retire at the end of 1996 instead of seeking a sixth term, Smith was the logical choice to defend the seat for the GOP. Democrats, who had been competitive in recent Oregon elections, saw Hatfield's retirement as a clear opportunity to gain a seat.
Smith, owner of a frozen food packaging company in rural Pendleton, first entered politics in 1992, when he won a seat in the state Senate.
When Republicans won control of the chamber in 1994, Smith was elected Senate president, a position akin to that of majority leader in other legislatures.
Supporters attribute Smith's meteoric political rise to his conciliation and deal-making skills. For example, he was instrumental in crafting a compromise in 1995 that provided state money for expansion of Portland's light-rail commuter system.
Smith, who is opposed to abortion rights, was also a key Republican player in the establishment of Oregon's state health care plan for low-income residents, an initiative that included funding for abortion services.
However, Smith was also one of only a handful of state lawmakers who voted against a measure that would have toughened sanctions against employers who violated minimum wage laws.
Opponents frequently point to Smith's positions on fiscal and economic issues as indicators of his conservative tendencies.
For instance, Smith has said he will work for a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. He also has vowed to oppose any efforts to increase taxes, and he strongly advocates tax relief for small businesses and families.
Democrats tried during both campaigns to paint Smith as someone out of step with Oregon's mainstream, characterized by a penchant for moderation.
An example of this occurred when Wyden repeatedly attacked Smith during the special election for receiving support from organizations such as the Oregon Citizen's Alliance (OCA), a conservative group opposed to abortion rights and gay rights.
Smith also came under heavy criticism for environmental violations at his food plant.
After spending an estimated $2 million of his own money trading negative television commercials with Wyden, Smith initially said he would not run again in 1996.
But national Republicans, anxious to prevent Democrats from picking up a second seat previously held by the GOP, assured Smith he would not have to invest more of his personal fortune in another attempt. That cleared the way for Smith to return to the campaign trail.
In his second race, Smith worked to fend off allegations of extremism by portraying himself as a reasonable centrist.
He promised not to pursue a Constitutional amendment banning abortion if elected to the Senate, even though he opposes the procedure except in cases of rape, incest or danger to the life of the woman. And he pledged not to allow his views on abortion or other contentious issues to prevent him from seeking the "greater good."
Such rhetoric sparked a serious challenge to Smith in the Republican primary from former GOP ally Lon Mabon, chairman of the conservative Oregon Citizen's Alliance. Mabon, accusing his opponent of political expediency, said he was challenging Smith to make sure conservatives had a voice in the election.
But Mabon's message fell flat with primary voters, and Smith breezed to the Republican nomination, setting the stage for the general election matchup with Democrat Tom Bruggere, himself a millionaire and successful businessman.
Although Bruggere, a founder and former chief executive officer of the Portland-area high-tech firm Mentor Graphics, was making his first bid for elected office, he came highly touted by state and national Democrats as a fresh face with deep pockets.
Bruggere cruised through the primary season to grab the Democratic nomination and then took aim at Smith by recycling charges first used by Wyden that the Republican could not be trusted on issues such as the environment and abortion rights.
But Smith clearly benefited from the further exposure of the second campaign. While the earlier outing had left him bruised by attacks on his business practices and personal spending -- including such things as a million-dollar collection of antique Scottish golf clubs -- Smith's wide name recognition and Bruggere's lack of campaign experience worked to the Republican's advantage.
Smith blunted most of Bruggere's criticisms by further promising to work for a balance between economic development, job creation and environmental protection.
When Bruggere charged that Smith was a "chronic corporate polluter" in eastern Oregon, Smith responded with charges that his opponent was digging for damaging information about Smith's wife and her relatives for use in the campaign.
In the campaign's closing days, Smith also reached out again to moderate voters in the highly populous Portland metropolitan area by vowing to support federal funding for abortions for low-income women in cases of rape or incest or when necessary to save the woman's life.
Although it took several days to determine a winner because of the large number of outstanding absentee ballots, Smith eked out the victory to defend the seat for Republicans.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
Oregon - 2nd District
Bob Smith (R-Ore.)
Born: June 16, 1931, Portland, Ore.
Education: Willamette U., B.A. 1953.
Occupation: Public relations firm owner; cattle rancher; businessman.
Family: Wife, Kaye; three children.
Political Career: Ore. House, 1961-73, speaker, 1969-73; Ore. Senate, 1973-83, minority leader, 1977-83; U.S. House, 1983-95.
Capitol Office: 1126 Longworth Bldg. 20515; 225-6730.
By Congressional Quarterly
Smith, who previously represented this district for 12 years before voluntarily stepping down in 1994, was lured out of retirement only after receiving a personal guarantee from House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., that he would be rewarded with a leadership position in the 105th Congress, provided he won and Republicans retained control of the House.
When both came to pass, Smith was appointed chairman of the Agriculture Committee, where he had been a senior member before leaving Congress.
Smith is expected to bring a steady hand and historical perspective to the committee, which has undergone substantial change since the 104th Congress stemming from the departure of several key Republicans, including former chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas -- who ran successfully for the Senate -- and Missouri Rep. Bill Emerson, who died of lung cancer in 1996.
A livestock producer, Smith will probably side with cattlemen over issues such as opening up environmentally sensitive land to grazing.
Smith is also expected to be an advocate for wheat exports, an important source of revenue in Oregon.
In addition, because of his state's strong timber industry, Smith is likely to push policies that will encourage more harvesting on public lands.
Aside from agenda items, Smith's experience, clout and political stature may be tested by some Republican leaders who have talked openly about the possibility of eliminating the Agriculture panel.
But Smith undoubtedly will be a strong voice against proposals of that kind, arguing that such a move could seriously damage the GOP politically in rural districts.
Overall, however, the committee is likely to assume a lower profile in the next two years, particularly because Congress finished work in 1996 on two major pieces of agriculture legislation: an omnibus farm measure dubbed the "Freedom to Farm" bill and a rewrite of a pesticides law.
Although Smith now finds himself leading one of Capitol Hill's most influential committees, his return to politics was unplanned and certainly less than graceful.
Smith's name first surfaced in connection with a possible return to Congress in the spring of 1996 when he tried to persuade freshman Republican Rep. Wes Cooley -- who had succeeded Smith -- to step aside in favor of another GOP candidate.
Cooley, a rancher and former state legislator, had come under scrutiny earlier that year for a series of allegations, including charges that he and his wife, Rosemary, had concealed their wedding date so she could continue receiving nearly $900 a month in veteran's benefits after the 1965 death of her first husband, a Marine captain who was killed in a plane crash.
Playing the role of respected party elder, Smith quietly worked behind the scenes for weeks in an attempt to ease Cooley out of the picture while simultaneously looking for other GOP candidates who could receive the support of the district's diverse Republican majority.
Although several potential Republican candidates emerged, Cooley refused to step aside.
Finally, Gingrich and other national GOP leaders, nervous about the possibility of losing a seat that had been held by Republicans for more than 100 years, turned to Smith and persuaded him to come out of retirement by offering him chairmanship of the Agriculture panel. In short order, Cooley agreed to step aside, clearing the way for Smith's return.
In the general election campaign, Democratic nominee Mike Dugan, a district attorney from central Deschutes County, urged voters to reject Smith and the Republican Party for their willingness to engage in blatant "political back-room dealmaking."
But such arguments seemed to have little effect, and Smith cruised to an easy victory over Dugan and a minor-party candidate in November.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
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