A lot of eyes – including those of pollsters and strategists working for Democrats already on the long march to 2008 – are focusing on Sen. Gordon Smith these days. The only Republican elected to statewide office from Oregon, Smith is used to serving a tricky constituency. As more than one political writer has noted, next year he will need all his GOP supporters as well as healthy returns from Portland and other Democratic pockets – a task made more formidable as the presidential race revs up and the Iraq war further divides voters. Smith, who joined those colleagues giving a thumbs-up to the Iraq war, later said he would have voted differently had accurate weapons of mass destruction info been available instead of the fantasy version. In an emotional speech on the Senate floor back in December, Smith said, "We have paid a price in blood and treasure that is beyond calculation." While many politicos on both sides of the aisle saw this more as a sign of pre-election panic than courage, a March 10 Oregonian Q&A with Smith might also be read as a refreshingly cogent response to the matter, compared to the various fumblings of certain other politicians wrestling with their early war votes. Smith says that while he would not vote to enter the conflict now, that doesn't mean he feels apologetic for supporting the war then. The decision, Smith says, "was made with the best information I had at the time, and I'm glad Saddam Hussein is gone. The world is a better place for that." Last month, Smith broke ranks with most of his colleagues to support legislation that would pull a majority of U.S. troops out of Iraq, a position that, as one Portland newspaper headline put it, was a "rare but big" split from the GOP. Before the ink was dry on the votes, political bookies were pondering the odds of a right-wing Republican whuping a guy who had the temerity to break ranks over military matters. While a small-sample poll shows more than half of both Republicans and Democrats approve of Smith's performance, there's still plenty of shifting sand, as evidenced by Oregonians in the commentsphere, including the Oregon Public Broadcasting audience. Speculation about U.S. Rep Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, as a potential challenger to Smith has ebbed and flowed in recent weeks; most recently DeFazio appears to be resisting making any move too early.