Oregon could get its first Republican governor in decades

Max Keatin, DCNF

Democrats have firmly held Oregon’s gubernatorial office since 1987, but with the party deeply unpopular and a duo of competitive challengers, that could change in November.

The race is neck and neck according to the most recent polling coming out of Nelson Research in late May. Former House Minority Leader Republican Christine Drazan stands at just under 30% and former Democrat House Speaker Tina Kotek at 28%, while Independent Betsy Johnson lags behind at roughly 19%. Democratic incumbent Kate Brown cannot run for reelection.

After eight years in office, Brown is the least-popular governor in the nation, according to a Jan. 1-March 31 Morning Consult poll. During her tenure, Oregon has seen increasing rates of homelessness and crime, which along with poor government leadership constitute the top three issues for Oregon’s voters, per Oregon Public Broadcasting polling.

In 2021 Portland alone witnessed 92 homicides, an all-time record and stark increase from 36 in 2019. But Brown nonetheless touts a lenient approach to crime; in April she granted clemency to a murderer serving life without parole for the cold-blooded killing of a teenager, and during riots in Portland in July 2020 she criticized former President Donald Trump for sending in federal agents to protect a federal courthouse as local and state police stood by.

Brown’s approval has been particularly lackluster in more rural counties east of the Cascade Mountains, nine of which have actually voted to leave Oregon to form “Greater Idaho.”

In Brown’s stead running on the Democratic ticket is Kotek, a Portland-based Democrat seen by many as more of the same, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. In announcing her candidacy in January, Kotek released a list of accomplishments from her time in the state legislature that included expanding health care coverage to undocumented Oregonians, mandating the use of lower-polluting auto fuels, increasing the minimum wage, restricting how local governments can enforce homeless camping bans, expanding gun control and codifying legal abortion.

“Thinking that repeating the same failed policies on drugs, crime, and homelessness will yield different results is not just failing to reason properly, it’s also irresponsible,” Portland-based public intellectual and philosopher Peter Boghossian told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Kotek’s campaign did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment on how she differentiates herself from the unpopular Brown.

Seeking to capitalize on the fact that just 18% of Oregonians believe the state to be headed in the right direction under current leadership are Betsy Johnson, an established Democratic legislator in the state who left her party to mount a more moderate campaign as an Independent, and Christine Drazan, a pro-Trump Republican who marks a shift from the more moderate conservatives that the Oregon G.O.P. has nominated in recent years.

While Oregon has not had a Republican Governor since 1987, and the party has won just one statewide race since 2000, Drazan’s campaign manager Trey Rosser is confident in their chances.

“Oregonians are waking up to [Democrats’] failed records and looking for someone who will lead our state,” he told TheDCNF. “Tina Kotek, Betsy Johnson, and Governor Kate Brown bear the brunt of responsibility for Oregon’s decade of decline. Together, they’ve raised taxes by billions, allowed our streets to descend into chaos and violence, passed policies that have exacerbated our homeless crisis, and left our schools mired in mediocrity.”

Due to the competitive three-way field Republican political consultant Rebecca Tweed expects the race to be “the most expensive campaign for Governor in Oregon’s history.” With months to go and money to be spent, the race is one to keep an eye on, but it may ultimately hinge on whether centrist Johnson siphons more votes from the left or right.

The Johnson campaign did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

The Nelson poll was conducted among 516 likely voters with a 4.3% margin of error.

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