How a third-party candidate upset the Oregon governor’s race and could just spoil the Democrats’ streak – WEIS

ABC News

(PORTLAND, Ore.) — Oregon has had a Democratic governor for 35 years — but this year’s race could very well break that streak thanks to a potent cocktail of local and national issues, but mostly because of a drawing of third-party candidate loud double-digit voter support.

With weeks to go until Election Day, race watchers and officials are calling the contest a jumping contest between Democrats and Republicans.

“I’m very concerned,” said Greg Peden, who worked as an aide to former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. “I think it’s the tightest race we’ve seen and the most complex race we’ve seen, and I don’t think anyone can really predict, even now, exactly how it will end.”

Former State House Speaker Tina Kotek, the Democratic candidate, and Republican rival Christine Drazan, a former State House Minority Leader, are running to replace term-limited Governor Kate Brown.

But strategists from both parties say the real twist behind the narrow election is the one-third candidacy of former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who was a Democrat when she was in office and is now running as an independent.

She’s been a staunch moderate in her 20 years in the state House and Senate, a reputation that has carried her into the campaign trail and could come in handy in a state with more unaffiliated voters than Democrats. registered.

According to the FiveThirtyEight polling average, Johnson is gaining around 16% support, keeping Drazan and Kotek in the 30s average. but since the end of September, it is Drazan who has taken a very slim lead.

While the Democrats are easily winning in Oregon at the federal level, the state has held several close gubernatorial contests, the last two of which were decided by about 6 and 7 points, respectively. Yet Republicans haven’t won the governorship since 1982 and President Joe Biden recently took Beaver State by 16 points just two years ago – leaving Oregon out of the heart battlefield maps from most tipsters this cycle.

Launching her third-party campaign last fall, Johnson acknowledged that “tackling the entrenched two parties will be difficult and costly” but presented herself as “independent, pro-choice.” [and] pro-jobs.

Kotek’s and Drazan’s campaigns diverge on some priorities — Kotek focuses on abortion access and climate change while Drazan emphasizes resource stewardship and public education — but both address three of the same problems: the economy and the working class; housing and homelessness; and public safety.

Crime and housing have become major concerns in the state as many residents of Oregon and elsewhere grapple with historically high inflation.

Drawing from both Democratic and Republican platforms, Johnson has consistently expressed support for abortion access while lambasting crime and homelessness in Portland and describing herself as a “responsible gun owner and collector. for life”.

Johnson’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this story, but she told Fox News earlier this month that “people are scared and they’re crazy” and on education said “Let’s not worry about pronouns. Let’s do math.

Johnson also brings significant personal wealth to the race and received $3.75 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

“Oh, absolutely,” Oregon Democratic strategist Jake Weigler said when asked if Kotek would have the advantage in a two-man race without Johnson. “It would probably be a more competitive race than Democrats have had in the past… But I think that would be a completely different conversation.”

Johnson’s esteemed appeal among disgruntled voters who don’t want to support Drazan also dovetails with another challenge for Kotek.

FiveThirtyEight reported earlier this month that Governor Brown, who has been in office since 2015, is not very popular, which some Democrats fear will tarnish the party’s brand — and Kotek by extension.

“The race is terribly close because Betsy takes more votes from Tina than Christine. But it’s also partly because people equate Tina with Governor Brown, who has a low approval rating. It’s unfair because they are completely different people, with different styles of government,” said a former Democratic state legislator.

Republicans are also optimistic that Drazan will be able to take offense to certain policies, taking on economic worries and the scars of violence and social justice unrest in Portland – all of which took place as Democrats have full control of Salem.

Oregon had the seventh-highest homeless population in 2020, according to federal government data, and Portland saw an increase in crimes like murder and assault, according to city police. Drazan has covered the airwaves with ads featuring tents along Portland streets and broader questions about how happy Oregonians are with the current situation, while staying clear of thornier issues like his support for Donald Trump or abortion restrictions.

“Oregonians really feel like this just isn’t addressed, and the state doesn’t want to be known for it. We don’t want people to be afraid to come to the state because they’re afraid of crime, but it’s a reality,” said Oregon GOP strategist Rebecca Tweed. She argued that “businesses leave, people stop visiting, ordinary people no longer feel safe. So it’s certainly a much bigger problem.

Still, Kotek has big advantages

Chief among them is the inherent advantage of Democrats in the state. Johnson appears to have hit a ceiling in voter polls, and there are nearly 300,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. And Democrats have decades of institutional knowledge on how to win gubernatorial races.

“On the poll, it looks like a draw, but when you look at the advantage in terms of number of registrations and past history, even with a close election, I think that advantage must still belong to Kotek” , said the policy of the University of the Pacific. science teacher Jim Moore. “It’s a big hill for Republicans to climb.”

On politics, Kotek hammers hard on abortion access, urging Drazan to take a more definitive stance on how she would approach the issue as governor. And Kotek tries to tie his Republican opponent to the more radical GOP flank, pointing to Drazan’s expressed support for the entire ticket, which includes a Senate candidate who spoke approvingly about elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

This strategy is reflected in a publicity blitz, including a clip comparing Drazan’s policies on abortion to remarks by Supreme Court justices who indicated during their confirmation hearings that they would support Roe v. Wade before finally voting to cancel it.

“We have a population of women with a very high propensity to vote, they tend to be more progressive. We have more Democrats in the population alone. And if any female Democratic voters show up to vote, it will be a very tough campaign for Drazan,” conceded Tweed, the Republican strategist. “If I’m Tina Kotek, I talk about this issue all day until the election is over…and if I’m Drazan, I try to stay away from it as much as possible.”

“We are already seeing this change,” Tweed added. “I think it will only increase from now on.”

Kotek has also been quick to tackle crime and homelessness, posting advertisements and a proposal to increase housing. Drazan, too, is leading her platform with a plan for “crisis on our streets” and to “restore community safety.”

This dynamic sets the stage for a combustible finish at the surprisingly tight stroke.

The Democratic Governors Association has invested about $5 million this cycle, while its Republican counterpart has invested $4.1 million, and each of the three candidates has formidable war chests. In another sign of the GOP’s broader interest in the race, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — who won last year in a blue state — campaigned with Drazan in Aurora on Tuesday, and Knight switched sides from Johnson to give Drazan $1 million.

Biden is expected to appear with Kotek on Saturday after attending a “grassroots volunteer event with Oregon Democrats” on Friday, according to the White House.

Turnout is also expected to be high as every active registered voter receives a mail-in ballot – starting Wednesday – and ballots can then be dropped off until 8 p.m. local time on Sunday. ballot.

“We’re not going to know the outcome of this very tight race until maybe Friday of this week or maybe even later,” said Greg Leo, the former Oregon GOP executive director. “It’s going to be very long a few days after the polls close.”

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