?It’s Friday afternoon, and Cruz has just returned from a day of work in the capital. Still in coat and tie, he programs his TiVo to record his favorite show, The McLaughlin Group, and then settles into a wicker chair in the living room.

“I think it’s just a matter of [me] being a better match for the district,” he says of his candidacy. “I’m no slouch on the environment, and I’m committed to bringing the salmon back, but geez, that is not the chief issue in the race.” He repeats his concerns about access to health care, illustrating the point with an account of how he nearly died of the flu in January 2005, a time during which he was uninsured.

Cruz’s habit of turning the personal into a public platform may be an asset to Gordly, but to others, it is his Achilles’ heel. “Sean’s doings in the last legislative session bugged me,” says Jack Bogdanski, a professor of law at Lewis & Clark Law School and the author of the acerbic Jack Bog’s Blog. “He got his car towed unjustly from a private lot, and that sent him into a tizzy that led to Avel’s crusade against predatory towing.”

To some, a more egregious example of Cruz allowing passion to dictate politics occurred after the 2005 death of his 23-year-old son, Aaron, an Army National Guardsman who also had a long history of drug addiction. After having a severe seizure, Aaron ended up in a Utah hospital in a coma and died five days later, his father by his side. Soon after Cruz returned to Oregon, he began railing vehemently against President Bush, the war in Iraq and the dismal state of veteran’s care, though none of these things played a clear role in Aaron’s death. He also drafted a state bill that makes the crime of parental abductions a civil liability, giving Cruz and parents like him the right to sue the abductor without having to press criminal charges. By recounting the story of his children’s disappearance back in 1996, he successfully pushed the bill through the Oregon legislature. Now called Aaron’s Law, Senate Bill 1041 was signed by Governor Kulongoski in 2005.

When I ask Cruz whether he is using politics as a means to fix publicly what he could not personally, and whether he thinks becoming a senator might be the thing that moves his surviving children to rekindle a relationship with him, Cruz says, “I don’t know. Right now, they can find me on my blog.”

Just before Christmas, Cruz posted a couple dozen pictures of his kids to his website under the heading “My Well-Loved Children.” In them, they are riding tricycles, trick-or-treating and playing at the beach. His youngest, 7 when he last saw her, turned 20 this year.

Cruz finally found himself a campaign manager, a goateed 25-year-old named David Linn, in early February. Around the same time, he began e-mailing regular dispatches of his plans should he be elected, efforts that seemed to indicate that his campaign was finally amping up. If he loses his race, Cruz says, he’ll finish his duties at the legislature until Gordly retires, “and then I will retire from it, too.”

It may not sound like the statement of a man gunning to win, but in the context of Cruz’s life, winning may not be the point. No matter the outcome on election day, even if he finds himself a senator, the happy ending to Sean Cruz’s story may remain unwritten, for what defines him has less to do with all that he’s accomplished than with what he knows is still missing.