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Democrat Tina Kotek Narrowly Bests Republican Challenger For Oregon Governor in Deep Blue State

Democrat Tina Kotek was projected to eke out a win to become Oregon’s next governor in what surprisingly became one of the most competitive governor’s races in the nation in one of the most unlikely places – the deep blue Beaver State.

The Associated Press called the tight race late Thursday, citing “no signs” that Republican Christine Drazan was improving in recent days after local news outlets had projected Kotek as the winner earlier in the week.

“I am honored and humbled to serve Oregon,” Kotek wrote in a tweet Wednesday night. “I promise to be a Governor for all of Oregon. And I’m ready to get to work and move Oregon forward.”

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Alarm bells began blaring for Democrats in recent weeks, as a split Democratic vote between Kotek and third-party candidate Betsy Johnson seemed to give Republican Drazan a chance in a state largely politically controlled by Portland’s liberal majority, where a Republican governor has not been elected in four decades.

Accordingly, national Democrats, including President Joe Biden – who took the state by 16 points in 2020 – Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts made the unusual trek to Oregon in the final weeks before the midterms to secure support for their party in an area where the gesture is not usually required.

Kotek, a long-time Oregon House speaker, will succeed Gov. Kate Brown, who has been deemed the nation’s least popular governor. Voters have voiced concern about Kotek, who some have compared to Brown, pointing to their shared allies and histories in the state’s capital, Salem. The editorial board at The Oregonian wrote in its seemingly reluctant endorsement of Kotek that “the abuses of one-party rule and Kotek’s own manipulations make this our most conflicted endorsement in recent years.”

“But ultimately, we are endorsing Kotek based on the singular strengths she possesses, her record of accomplishment and our expectation that she will make the transition from party champion to state leader out of her genuine devotion to Oregonians,” the editorial board wrote.

Much like the national debate, the Republican candidate for governor, Drazan, positioned crime at the center of Oregon’s governor’s race, while the Democrat situated issues like abortion among a handful central to the campaign. With a Democrat-controlled state legislature and various protections for abortion access already in place, access to the procedure was not especially at risk for Oregonians. But Kotek painted Drazan, who is pro-life, as an extreme MAGA Republican who was seeking to put access to abortion on the chopping block after the Supreme Court gutted Roe v. Wade this summer.

Beyond the advantage granted to Drazan with a third-party candidate siphoning Democratic votes, a number of other surprisingly competitive races in Oregon this year also appear reflective of a trend seen in blue states – a shift to the right amid concerns over increased crime, along with economic concerns.

Kotek makes history, joining Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey as the country’s first openly lesbian candidates to be elected governor.

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