Both candidates spent heavily from their own resources. Bruggere won the Democratic nomination with $800,000 of his own money in the primary race, and was one of 134 candidates for the U.S. Congress to finance their own elections in excess of $50,000 in that cycle. Smith had already spent $2.5 million of his own money earlier that same year in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Democrat Ron Wyden in the 1996 special election to replace Bob Packwood, who had resigned.
Shortly after their respective primary victories, the rivals met for a highly publicized lunch, and agreed to run issue-oriented campaigns. However, in the final weeks of the campaign, Bruggere supporters ran advertisements alleging a pollution problem with Smith's frozen foods business, which the Smith campaign characterized as a breach of that agreement. A Boston Globe profile highlighted their similarities as corporate candidates with minimal political experience.
In the general election race, most Oregon daily newspapers endorsed Smith over Bruggere. The race was close, with neither side claiming victory for several days after the election, as absentee ballots were tallied. After all votes were counted, Smith won by 4 percentage points. It was the last of the 1996 Senate elections to be determined; overall, the Republicans gained two seats in the Senate, increasing their majority from 53 to 55 seats.