A test in Oregon: Can Republicans expand their reach in blue states?

The bigger problem for Wehby, however, may be the GOP brand itself. She is campaigning as a different kind of Republican, with softer edges and a libertarian streak. But she has had difficulty distinguishing her candidacy from her party’s more strident national agenda.

“The Republican brand is in a sad state across the country, but particularly so in places like Oregon,” Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin said. “There are a host of things that Republicans are routinely for that very frequently become deal-breakers for voters.” He cited restrictions on women’s access to abortion and contraception as examples.

For Democrats, the key to winning the Senate majority in 2006 and keeping it ever since has been ideological flexibility. Democrats like Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mark Begich of Alaska got elected by carefully tailoring their campaigns to their deep-red states and rejecting liberal orthodoxy on some issues.

Wehby is attempting to adopt a similar strategy. A political newcomer with no voting record, she has taken stances on hot-button social issues that are out of step with the GOP base but designed to appeal to moderate voters.