Merkley gets his first 2014 challenger

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SALEM, Ore. — An Albany, Ore., Republican has become the first challenger to formally enter the 2014 Senate race against incumbent Democrat Sen. Jeff Merkley.

Jo Rae Perkins, a former chairwoman of the Linn County Republican Party and certified financial planner, announced her candidacy Friday during Oregon public appearances in Albany, Eugene, Salem and Wilsonville.

"I'm running because I'm frustrated that we have elected officials that are not following their oath of office to uphold the Constitution of the United States," Perkins said. "We have gotten away from the core values envisioned by our founders."

Perkins called herself socially and fiscally conservative and promised not to vote for legislation that doesn't pass her three-part test.

"It must be congruent with the U.S. Constitution, that is 100 percent; there cannot be pork and unrelated bills or unrelated projects; and it cannot violate my personal values," Perkins said.

She's also signed the "Contract from America," which is a list of conservative agenda items written by Tea Party groups in 2010. The contract asks elected officials to vet the constitutionality of new laws and work to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Perkins announced her candidacy in Salem at the Capitol to one audience member, the press and a Democratic operative. Perkins faces an uphill battle to the Senate in both fundraising and name recognition. Merkley already has amassed $1.8 million for his re-election campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission filings.

The 2014 election will be the Democratic incumbent's first re-election campaign since defeating Republican Sen. Gordon Smith in 2008. Previously, Merkley served as a state representative and Oregon's House Speaker.

"I'm not a politician," Perkins said. "I'm not looking at some long-term career. That's not at all what our founders wanted ... I will not serve for more than two terms."

Perkins decided to run for U.S. Senate in 2009 and worked to earn a bachelor's degree in political science from Oregon State University. She's married to her high school sweetheart, who is self-employed as a carpet installation contractor. The couple have two children and five grandchildren.

Perkins' campaign infrastructure appears to be in its infancy as she is still looking to hire a slew of key campaign staff positions, including campaign manager, communications director and volunteer coordinator, according to her Facebook page. She's also one of three Republican challengers who have filed with the Federal Elections Commission. Karl King and Mark Allen Callahan have yet to launch their campaigns.

Perkins said she's heard of two additional Republicans who may enter the race, but she declined to name any.

When asked about her strategy for the primary and general election, Perkins said she doesn't want to give away the "playbook," but her campaign "is not going to be the normal campaign."