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Smith urges Perry Atkinson to resign

But a Gordon Smith spokesman denies that the U.S. senator made a veiled threat against the state GOP chairman's son

Perry Atkinson was floored by U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith's attempt to muscle him out of the Oregon Republican Party leadership and shaken by a veiled threat that if he didn't leave, it could hurt the political career of his son, state Sen. Jason Atkinson.

I was told it was best for my son's political future if I took a victory lap and stepped out, said Atkinson, Oregon GOP chairman and Medford Christian radio broadcaster.

Smith, who won the November general election by 20 percentage points over his opponent, is backing former state House speaker Lynn Snodgrass' campaign for chairwoman of the Oregon GOP in February, while asking his political ally Atkinson to step aside.

This has blindsided me, said Atkinson, who has been chairman for four years. I am still reeling by the fact that this has happened to me. I have made thousands of calls on behalf of the senator to get him re-elected and now he's asking me to step down.

Atkinson said he received a call from Smith just after he had taken his other son, Andy Atkinson, to the hospital last week because of a health setback from a serious skiing accident in March.

The telephone conversation ended, Perry Atkinson said, with the implication that it would be beneficial to Jason Atkinson's political career if his father stepped aside quietly. To imply that was just cheap, Perry Atkinson said.

Atkinson said he was surprised that Smith wanted him out because he helped build up a strong GOP base in Oregon over the past four years, which played a role in Smith's substantial win.

While Atkinson said he hasn't completely made up his mind whether he will take another run as chairman in February, he did say the stage could be set for a battle over the heart and soul of the party.

Solomon Yue, Republican national committeeman for Oregon, said Smith's veiled threat was way out of line. If somebody said that if you don't step down it will be bad for my son's political future, how would you interpret it?

Yue said he would fight the Smith-backed candidacy of Snodgrass. He (Smith) has kicked Perry in the butt and blindsided him, Yue said.

Smith's rationale behind his support for Snodgrass, Yue said, is to gain greater control over large campaign donations, known as soft money.

During the last election, according to Yue, Smith ran a campaign that relied heavily on media advertising, known in political circles as air warfare.

However, Yue said the Republican National Committee recently has mandated that its party members devote more time and money to a boots-on-the-street, grass-roots campaign ' something he believes Atkinson already has accomplished.

Yue said Smith's plans run counter to the GOP's push for more ground warfare.

Gordon Smith would like to protect the air warfare, Yue said.

John Easton, Smith's chief of staff, said he was present when Smith made the call to Atkinson. He said there wasn't any suggestion that not stepping aside would in some way harm Jason Atkinson's political career.

This thing about Jason has no standing whatsoever, he said.

The senator decided to support Snodgrass' candidacy because of her ideas on fund raising, candidate recruitment and securing a win for President Bush in Oregon in 2004.

One of Lynn Snodgrass' greatest strengths is her ability to raise money for the party, he said.

Smith himself raised &

36;1.5 million for the party during the last election in addition to another &

36;6.5 million for his own race, Easton said.

During the campaign, Smith did rely on a strong presence in the media, Easton said, but he termed it false to suggest the senator doesn't believe in a strong grass-roots campaign.

Snodgrass said Smith's support of her candidacy is not just about soft money.

Running a party is bigger than that, she said.

Most of the money raised by the Oregon GOP during the last election came through Smith's campaign, but more fund-raising efforts are needed for the next election, she said.

In recent years the fund raising has not gone well, she said.

She disputes the assertion that Smith's main interest is running campaigns over the airwaves. Gordon's always had awesome grass-roots support, she said.

Both methods ' through the airwaves or on the ground ' are important, she said, but the air is often one of the better ways of providing information to the public.

One of her main goals, if elected, will be to develop the financial and grass-roots support needed for the 2004 election.

We would like to deliver Bush this time, she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail