SALEM — Being the consensus front-runner in any campaign makes you a target, a lesson state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, has been reminded of more than once in recent weeks. Running as a moderate, he has been hammered on the left by Gov. Kate Brown’s re-election campaign, and this week the AFL-CIO launched a website dedicated to hitting Buehler as anti-labor. Meanwhile, challengers to his right say he isn’t conservative enough to be the GOP standard-bearer. The unfriendly fire has spread to his former campaign spokesman and some regional Republican leaders.

Buehler’s campaign critics are at the top of a roundup of state and national Oregon political news:

Absentee front-runner?

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports some Republicans are complaining about Buehler not taking part in GOP debates sponsored by various county and state Republican political groups. Buehler did not take part in a forum at the Republican state convention in Lebanon and has skipped events in Marion, Baker and Linn counties where others have shown up. Buehler’s campaign said previous commitments kept him away. But not everyone is accepting the explanation.

“It is raising a lot of questions,” Baker County Republican Chairwoman Suzan Ellis Jones told OPB. “People are asking why. You know, it’s peculiar.”

Sam Carpenter, a Bend businessman running as the most pro-Trump Republican, has started tweeting the hashtag #NoShowKnute.

Buehler has committed to attending the Washington County GOP candidates forum April 14 in Hillsboro. Unlike most local organizations, the Washington County party plans on making an endorsement before the May 15 primary.

Meanwhile, after a few weeks of silence, Jonathan Lockwood, the Buehler spokesman who was fired from the campaign earlier this year, has fired back with a broadside against his old boss. Lockwood, who now works for conservative Greg Wooldridge, a Buehler opponent in the GOP primary for governor, told the Eugene Weekly he chafed under his old boss’ approach. “It’s really hard to be somebody’s spokesman when you don’t know where he stands on anything.” He criticized Buehler for being out of touch with the party faithful on issues like the new initiative drive to restrict assault-style semi-automatic weapons in Oregon. Buehler is on record as saying he will wait until he sees if the initiative qualifies for the ballot. “Hello! You are in a Republican primary; what do you think you should do?” Lockwood was reported to say. Of Buehler’s “moderate Republican” stance, Lockwood said “moderates seem to be the people who are squishy and don’t say a lot.” Buehler has not issued a response.

More gun control

A second initiative dealing with gun control has been submitted for the November ballot. Under the proposed new law, logged as Initiative 44 by the Secretary of State, gun owners would be required to safely store, move and supervise use of their firearms. Owners would be liable for any damage to property or persons if the firearms are in violation of the law when used. An initiative to restrict assault weapons has already been filed as Initiative 43.

Walden tough to beat

Joining a list that already includes Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight political forecast and the Cook Political Report, “Sabato’s Crystal Ball,” a political tracking website run by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said March 15 that U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, is “safe” to win re-election for a 12th term representing Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District. Ten candidates, including seven Democrats, have lined up to run against Walden. Democrats are hoping displeasure with President Donald Trump will turn formerly safe seats into competitive races. The Democratic Party of Oregon will not endorse in the primary, said Communications Director Molly Woon. But the party is raising funds that will be given to whichever Democrat wins May 15. Walden has won re-election with more than 60 percent of the vote in previous elections. The sprawling district, which includes Deschutes County, covers all of Eastern and Central Oregon and much of the southern part of the state. It’s the only one of five Oregon congressional districts represented by a Republican.

Car and driver

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is seeking a car and driver to be assigned to him, saying it would improve his efficiency and guard against any threats to his safety. In a move first reported by The Oregonian, Richardson will avoid conflict of interest by having his deputy make the request as part of a general office administrative review. The governor has 24-hour security and a driver provided by Oregon State Police. Richardson’s office says it is only seeking the driver and car for when he is on official or personal business around the state. No other statewide officeholder has an official car and driver.

— Reporter: 541-525-5280,