In Oregon, the fight for governor is about winning over disgruntled voters

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Republicans in Oregon sense a rare opportunity in 2022: With a term-limited Democratic governor and a viable independent candidate who could squeeze Democratic votes in November, they think they could be poised to win the executive mansion for the first time. times in 40 years.

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Oregon’s primaries this year are taking place against a grim backdrop, where polls show a rise in homelessness, gun violence and other issues that are making voters extremely pessimistic about the direction the state is headed. . The gubernatorial candidates aim much of their rhetoric at tapping into the gloomy mood of voters.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

The question for Tuesday’s primary is which candidate in a crowded field Republican voters will choose as their best bet. Among the 19 candidates for the position are a Trumpist small-town mayor, the former Republican leader in the State House and a business executive who served in the legislature decades ago.

Democrats, meanwhile, are largely choosing between two seasoned politicians as they seek to maintain a long winning streak in Beaver State.

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland has played an important role in state governance over the past decade. She is trying to become the country’s first openly lesbian governor.

Kotek’s main rival for the job is state treasurer Tobias Read, himself a former lawmaker, who has sought to market himself as an “outsider” candidate capable of steering the state in a new direction.

Oregon’s primaries this year are taking place against a grim backdrop, where polls show a rise in homelessness, gun violence and other issues that are making voters extremely pessimistic about the direction the state is headed. . That’s especially true in Portland, Oregon’s central Democratic stronghold, where a recent poll found only 8% of voters believe the city is headed in the right direction.

Republicans hope to capitalize on this disaffection.

The Republicans

Arguably, former state Rep. Christine Drazan, who made a name for herself as a House Republican leader by ordering her members out of state in order to block climate change legislation in 2020, is arguably at the front of the GOP field. Polls suggest Drazan is in a close race with Bob Tiernan, a businessman who served as a state legislator in the 1990s but came back from political hibernation with the help of more than $700,000 from his own money, fat checks from business allies, and a relentless badass – criminal message.

Bud Pierce, an oncologist who was named party governor in 2016, is also in the running; Stan Pulliam, the mayor of Sandy, Oregon, who more than any other candidate has adopted the style and rhetoric of former President Donald Trump; Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten; and Marc Thielman, former superintendent of small-town schools.

Republican candidates have spent most of their campaigns railing against the leadership of Democratic Governor Kate Brown – who polls suggest is the nation’s least popular governor — on issues like Oregon’s strict COVID-19 restrictions, homelessness and crime.

The Democrats

The two central Democrats, meanwhile, brought different strategies to the race. Read, the state treasurer, embraced some of the Republican rhetoric, slamming powerful Democrats, including Kotek, for mishandling state policies. He has struggled to attract institutional endorsements but has the backing of two former Democratic governors, Barbara Roberts and John Kitzhaber.

Tina Kotek, left, and Tobias Read.

Tina Kotek, left, and Tobias Read.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

In a recent ad, Read accuses Kotek of “overseeing a homelessness crisis, rising crime and failing schools.” The ad calls Read “the only Democrat calling for new leadership.”

Kotek was more positive, touting her accomplishments as the longest-serving speaker in Oregon history. In nine years in this position, she helped pass bills protecting the right to abortion, reducing carbon emissions, enacting gun controls and raising the minimum wage, among others.

“What I sell to people is an experience of listening to people, understanding problems, defining solutions, and achieving solutions,” she said in an interview.

Kotek has leveraged his record to garner support from the many labor and advocacy groups that regularly propel Oregon Democrats to victory. The question is whether that will be enough or whether its connection to the status quo will cause Democratic primary voters to ignore it.

The Democratic field experienced a major upheaval in February when the former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof was ruled ineligible to run because he did not meet the state’s three-year residency requirement. During his short campaign, Kristof attracted high donations from people like Angelina Jolie, Larry Summers and Melinda Gates.

The freelancer who attracts a lot of money

Betsy Johnson, a longtime former Democratic senator who left the party last year to organize a gubernatorial race unaffiliated with either party, is waiting to challenge the winners of the partisan primaries. Due to his independent status, Johnson is not on the ballot Tuesday. Instead, she will attempt to collect around 23,750 voter signatures to land on the November ballot.

Political observers expect her to succeed and be a formidable presence. Johnson’s long history as a business-friendly Democrat has made her a fundraising juggernaut in a state with no limits on campaign donations.

Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson.

Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson.

Kaylee Domzalski/OPB

Johnson far outpaced all other candidates in the field, with donations that include $1.75 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight. She reported raising more than $8 million in total, a staggering sum about six months before Election Day.

Johnson sells himself to voters as a better alternative to the extremes of both parties.

“Having to choose between another left-liberal promising more of the same or a right-wing Trump apologist — is no choice at all,” Johnson said when announcing his campaign last year. “Oregonians deserve better than the excesses and nonsense of the far left and the radical right.”

Members of both major parties are largely unaware of the possibility that Johnson could win in a deeply partisan environment, but they disagree on whether she will draw more votes from their party or the other.

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