By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s gubernatorial election, usually a shoo-in for the Democratic candidate, has turned into a nail-biter with the Republican’s bid possibly buoyed by a third contender.
Three women, all former legislators, are the top candidates in the race to become the next governor of the state, which hasn’t elected a Republican to the office in 40 years.
Democrat Tina Kotek, formerly the longest serving Oregon House speaker, is being challenged by Christine Drazan, a former leader of the Republican minority in the House. Several opinion polls showed the two statistically tied, which prompted President Joe Biden to come to Portland to boost Kotek’s chances.
The presence of Betsy Johnson, who was in the statehouse for 20 years and quit the Democratic Party in 2021 to run as an unaffiliated candidate, presents a wild card in the race. Johnson is hoping to woo centrist Republican and Democratic voters, as well as the 1 million unaffiliated voters who slightly outnumber registered Democrats and are 40% greater than registered Republicans.
Several voters said on Tuesday they were concerned about abortion rights, homelessness and the economy.
Portland resident Emily Lamunyan said that if reproductive rights were scaled back following an election she didn’t vote in, “I would never forgive myself.”
Johnson said she would be the first unaffiliated woman to be elected governor of a state if she wins. The last and only time an unaffiliated candidate won a gubernatorial race in Oregon was in 1930, when Julius Meier was elected to one term.
In a recent interview, Johnson noted that political pundits switched from considering the race as safely Democratic to being a toss-up.
“What’s interesting about this is that you’ve got three viable candidates,” she said. “It’s historic.”
Democrats worry that Johnson, who has been trailing Kotek and Drazan in polls, could attract enough voters on the left to boost Drazan’s odds. If elected, Drazan would be governing alongside a Legislature that has been dominated by Democrats.
Her veto power could stymie progressive legislation, and Democrats warn that a Drazan victory could threaten abortion rights, environmental protections and democratically run elections in the state.
An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon, said a vote for Johnson would only help Drazan — “an anti-choice Republican” — win.
Drazan, for her part, blames Democrats for homelessness, crime and inflation, saying picking Kotek would be like relecting Gov. Kate Brown, who was barred by term limits from running again.
“Tina Kotek will be four more years of the same,” Drazan told Sean Hannity on Fox News last week.
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