PORTLAND -- If Rep. Peter DeFazio is to earn a 14th term in Congress, he'll have to beat two members of the same family -- first a son, then the father.
Art Robinson, a Republican chemist who has been one of science's leading provocateurs, spooked DeFazio in 2010 with an unconventional -- but well-funded -- challenge to the Oregon Democrat. Now, Robinson's 24-year-old son, himself a budding scientist who says he agrees with his dad on just about everything, has launched his own campaign for the seat. Matthew Robinson became a Democrat so he could face off with DeFazio in next month's primary.
He was motivated, he said, by attacks on his father.
"In the last campaign, he showed himself to be not very honest," the younger Robinson said of DeFazio in a phone interview. "I thought the Democrats needed a better choice."
Robinson acknowledges that, on the issues, the second choice he's offering Democrats is pretty much identical to the choice they'll have in November. His own political views don't differ much from his father's, he said. And his policy critique of DeFazio would get a warm reception at a tea party rally: Too many taxes, too much government regulation, a vote for President Obama's health care overhaul.
He doesn't expect he'll win, he said, "but you never know." He hasn't raised any money for the race.
"The main thing I'm stressing is the honesty issue," said Robinson, a doctoral student studying nuclear engineering at Oregon State University. "If it was just the policy differences, I could just let my dad and DeFazio fight it out."
DeFazio says his criticisms are based on Art Robinson's own writings.
Matthew Robinson is the youngest of Art Robinson's six children. The family runs a research lab called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine on their property in southern Oregon, and they also sell a $195 home-schooling curriculum that they say provides nearly everything a child needs for 12 years of learning on 22 CDs.
Art Robinson's critiques of public schools -- the website for the Robinson Curriculum calls them "socialist," for example -- appear prominently in DeFazio campaign literature.
Robinson has studied with scientific luminaries including Linus Pauling, a two-time Nobel Prize winner. But he also rejects ideas that many of his mainstream colleagues consider scientific consensus. He insists climate change is not caused by humans, and he's explored a theory that exposure to very low levels of radiation is good for humans.
The Robinsons complain that DeFazio manipulates their words or takes them out of context. And indeed, DeFazio has a knack for getting under their skin. He's used Art Robinson's out-of-the-mainstream writings to portray Robinson as a "nutjob."
The Robinsons seem particularly irked by DeFazio's description of their property in Cave Junction, near the California border, as a "survivalist compound." The family has owned a sheep farm since the 1980s, they say. Art Robinson says their lab is "probably the finest biochemistry lab in the state."
He's self-published a 400-page manifesto called "Common Sense in 2012," with color photos throughout, laying out his positions on a variety of issues. He says he wants to get the book into the hands of as many voters as he can
In the challenge by Robinson two years ago, he showed surprising fundraising strength, in part from enthusiastic support among home-schooling advocates and climate change skeptics who helped him raise more than $1 million.
In his latest bid, Robinson is the only congressional challenger in Oregon to raise a significant amount of money so far. He reports raising $360,000 through March 31. And with resources like that, DeFazio said he can't dismiss Robinson's challenge despite the lopsided win two years ago.
"These are things that your normal ultra-right-wing fanatic doesn't have," DeFazio told The Associated Press in a recent interview in Portland.
The 4th Congressional District, in southwest Oregon, leans Democratic, and it includes liberal enclaves in the college towns of Ashland, Corvallis and Eugene. It also includes vast rural areas where conservatives dominate. DeFazio, who lives in Springfield, has represented the area since 1987.
Both Robinsons say they're unsure whether Matthew's bid will have much impact on the race.
"I have no idea whether it's good politics or not," Art Robinson said. "That's what my son wanted to do, and I do agree that men like Peter DeFazio should be opposed."