For the first time in more than 40 years, a Republican could win the gubernatorial seat of Oregon, breaking the seemingly strong line of Democratic states that line the Pacific coast of the United States.
The tight race between former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, and former Oregon House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, a Republican, who in the latest poll , showed Drazan a capillary lead, indicates a snub from the current limited-time Liberal governor. , Kate Brown.
Brown has one of the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the country amid growing concerns over how state leaders have handled everything from the pandemic to homelessness.
But it was a third-party candidate with support from both Republicans and Democrats, along with contributions from the state’s richest man, that really put a Republican on the path to eventual victory.
“The Democrats are pretty good at putting together a red-blue race in Oregon … But the dynamics of a three-way race really threw that playbook out the window,” said Jake Weigler, a progressive political strategist with the ‘Oregon not involved in race.
Betsy Johnson, who was a moderate Democrat while a state senator and is now running as an independent, is expected to garner up to 14% of the vote. Outside of independent voters, 17% of Democrats plan to vote for her, compared to just 9% of Republicans, according to an Emerson College Polling survey released earlier this month.
Rebecca Tweed, a Republican strategist from Oregon with no connection to the gubernatorial race, said it will be this subset of voters to watch on Election Day.
“We’ll have to see if any of those voters who were drawn to Betsy end up going back to their corners of the Democratic and Republican parties,” she said.
But it could also depend on what independent voters decide to do next month.
Ariya Ahrary, who has lived in Oregon since 2007, said she was initially very happy to see the independent candidate on the ballot. But after taking a closer look at each candidate’s policies, she said she would likely vote for Kotek in hopes that she would help change the direction of the state.
“We want real real change instead of just talking. I hope it happens, that it’s not just talk, it’s real action,” she said.
By far, Johnson’s biggest financial contribution came from Nike co-founder Phil Knight. In total, he’s sent $3.75 million to Johnson’s campaign since January, then earlier this month he sent $1.5 million to Drazan. In an interview with The New York Times earlier this month, he said he would do anything to keep Kotek out of the governor’s seat.
Projections of the gubernatorial race in a state where Joe Biden won by 16 points just two years ago came as a shock to many across the country. They have enticed national political figures to travel to the Pacific Northwest in hopes of garnering support for their candidates.
On Saturday, Biden spoke at an event in Portland, where he highlighted the increasingly important role governors play in implementing policy, while praising Kotek’s leadership and bravery.
“You are a progressive state. You are a state that has always been ahead of the curve. Stay ahead and elect Tina,” he said.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a rising Republican star, spoke at a rally for Drazan on Tuesday, while Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, attended an event for Kotek over the weekend.
Kotek, Drazan and Johnson recently reunited for the final televised debate in the race. The largely soft occasion was punctuated by sharp criticism thrown between Drazan, Johnson and their Democratic rival, including over abortion.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v Wade earlier this year, Oregon has positioned itself as a safe haven for abortions. Johnson, a former board member of Planned Parenthood, has described herself as pro-choice. Kotek, who was endorsed by Oregon’s Planned Parenthood Pac and helped lead the legislative effort to codify abortion access into state law in 2017, said she is an avid proponent of access to abortion, including potentially using taxpayers’ money to support this type of care. She accused Drazan of posing a threat to abortion access in the state.
Drazan rebutted saying that while she wouldn’t use taxpayer money to support abortion, the practice would remain legal. “It surprises me more and more how much Tina Kotek will lie to voters,” she said.
Another key question the candidates answered during the debate was the state’s response to the pandemic as it relates to school closures. Drazan accused both Governor Brown and Kotek of throwing “our kids under the bus,” while Johnson said, “The worst thing we did during Covid was kick the kids out of the classroom. class.”
Kotek, who agreed students had been kept out of the classroom for too long, said it was actually his Republican opponent who did the trick by voting against an education bill of several billion dollars in 2019.
But it was a question from a resident of Wilsonville, a town about 17 miles south of Portland, who highlighted an issue at the center of this race: “Since you’ve been a lifelong Democrat, how do you reconcile with the knowledge that your current efforts will likely cost Democrats the governorship of the state?”
Johnson told the public that she joined the race because she saw herself as the best candidate to lead a state that had “gone off the rails” and was not considering giving up.
She said: “I believe sports bettors don’t win games. Polls do not predict elections. I’ve seen enough fourth quarter finishes to know it’s not over until it’s over. And I am in this race until the absolute end.
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