Steve Novick launched his campaign to run for Republican Gordon Smith’s Senate seat in April 2007. He’s one of those prototypical Oregon progressives, with staunchly lefty views on war, taxes and health care. He also has an amazing story. He stands under five feet tall and was born with a missing left hand. Raised in a working-class family, he went on to Harvard Law School, at age 18, and ended up serving as the government’s lead attorney in the Love Canal case.

Half a year after Novick started his grass-roots campaign, the Democratic establishment put a more generic horse in the race: state House speaker Jeff Merkley, who’s voted against giving in-state tuition to immigrants’ children and in favor of denying driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Now, the two candidates are neck and neck in next week’s primary.

Novick’s underdog battle is getting an extra push from a bunch of notable musicians, from Death Cab for Cutie to REM to Rufus Wainwright. The campaign is giving tickets to Pearl Jam’s D.C. show this June to local supporters who donate $250. Even MTV is paying attention now.

(Conflict of interest alert: I went to grade school, high school and college with Novick’s campaign manager.)