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In Oregon, the nearly 40-year reign of the Democrats may be coming to an end: NPR


Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan speaks during a campaign event at The Barn at Countryside in Aurora, Oregon on October 18, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB


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In Oregon, the nearly 40-year reign of the Democrats may be coming to an end: NPR

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan speaks during a campaign event at The Barn at Countryside in Aurora, Oregon on October 18, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

No state in the country elects Democratic governors more reliably than Oregon, but every streak comes to an end.

This year, after nearly 40 years of dominance, the Democrats are considering the possibility of their reign coming to an end. With ballots in this mail-in state already heading to voters, polls show Democrat Tina Kotek, former state House speaker, neck and neck with Republican Christine Drazan, l Former Leader of the State House GOP.

Oregonians are anguished after years of COVID-19 lockdown and amid a worsening homelessness crisis that has been particularly acute in Portland, the state’s largest city. And they’re not fans of incumbent Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat whose polls show she has the lowest approval rating of any governor in the country.

The candidates

It’s an obstacle for Kotek, 56. She worked closely with the governor to pass progressive legislation for nine years as Speaker of the State House, but has started attacking Brown’s record in commercials and public appearances as she strives to create distance.

In Oregon, the nearly 40-year reign of the Democrats may be coming to an end: NPR

Tina Kotek on her last day in office as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, January 20, 2022. Kotek served as Speaker from 2013 to 2022 and stepped down to focus on her Democratic campaign for the office of governor.

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In Oregon, the nearly 40-year reign of the Democrats may be coming to an end: NPR

Tina Kotek on her last day in office as Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, January 20, 2022. Kotek served as Speaker from 2013 to 2022 and stepped down to focus on her Democratic campaign for the office of governor.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

“Oregon can do great things,” she said recently. “We haven’t had the leadership in our governor’s office over the past few years to make this happen, and I’ve had enough.”

Another challenge is Betsy Johnson, 71, the former Democratic state senator who was wary enough of Oregon’s progressive trajectory to drop her party’s registration last year. She is now mounting a well-funded centrist campaign for governor that, while unlikely to succeed, could siphon off Democratic votes.

“Our fucked up political system offers no good choices,” Johnson says in one of several campaign ads that have drowned out state airwaves since earlier this year. “I am not a captive of the far left or the far right.”

And then there’s Drazan, 50, a two-term lawmaker who smiles brightly on the campaign trail as she tears up Kotek and Johnson’s lengthy legislative filings, portraying the two women as one and the same.

“Our state is in a very, very difficult position after a decade of one-party control,” Drazan often says. “I ask the people of Oregon: Are you better off today than four years ago? If the answer is no, then the answer is change.”

money and influence

Oregon has no campaign contribution limit, and the three candidates have raised more than $55 million in total this year, breaking previous records. That’s partly because of the huge national interest from the Republican Governors Association and the Democratic Governors Association, which have poured money into Oregon.

In Oregon, the nearly 40-year reign of the Democrats may be coming to an end: NPR

Independent gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson speaks with bar and restaurant owners about the issues they faced in downtown Portland, October 17, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB


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Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

In Oregon, the nearly 40-year reign of the Democrats may be coming to an end: NPR

Independent gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson speaks with bar and restaurant owners about the issues they faced in downtown Portland, October 17, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

Nike co-founder Phil Knight, a billionaire and Oregon’s richest man, has an unprecedented interest in defeating the Democrats this year. He spent $3.75 million to back Johnson and, when his poll numbers didn’t budge, sent Drazan a check for $1 million.

The race is close enough that Democrats are calling in reinforcements – including President Joe Biden and US Senator Elizabeth Warren.

“Oregon is seen as a state that has always been at the forefront of change — positive change,” Biden said during a recent stop in Portland. “That’s why this race will be so important, not just for 2022, but for 2024.”

The Republicans are also providing outside help.

Drazan acknowledged that Biden had won the 2020 election and did not seek former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. Instead, she campaigned with politicians whose path to power she hopes to emulate: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Republicans who conquered leftist states.

“I believe in her, I believe in her plan,” Hogan said at a campaign event in September. “I believe the people of Oregon have had enough and are ready to try something different.”



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