The Tight Race for Governor in Oregon: Candidates and Key Issues

Oregon Governor Election 2022

The race for governor is one of the tightest in Oregon history. Republican candidate Christine Drazan, a former state legislator, is backed by Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Eight newsrooms took a closer look at where Democratic Tina Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson stand on key issues facing the state.

Democrat Tina Kotek

Kotek said she’ll focus on the people at the center of complex issues. She named a Eugene custodian worried about wages not keeping up with the cost of living, a Bend abortion access helpline volunteer and a Hermiston shop teacher who wants to make sure students have funding for career and technical education as examples.

She has pledged to bring a new approach to state government that is collaborative and respectful of all voices, and will tackle issues such as housing and homelessness, mental health and addiction treatment and successful schools. She will also travel the state, seeking to build strong, working partnerships with all communities and county governments.

Democrat Tina Kotek is ahead of Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Kate Brown. As of late Tuesday, she was in the lead, with ballots still being counted by local and state officials. If she wins, Kotek will become the nation’s first openly lesbian governor.

Democrat Kate Brown

The state’s former House speaker has a tight race against a Republican candidate who once served as the state’s minority leader. She has seized on voter anger over COVID-19 school closures, a homelessness crisis in Portland and fallout from the racial justice protests following the shooting of an unarmed black man.

During the Democratic primary, Kotek had little appetite for criticizing Brown. But as the race entered its final phase, her campaign started to sharpen its messaging in a bid to create distance from the incumbent.

The strategy has worked so far. Kotek is poised to win the governor’s seat, NBC News projects, becoming one of the nation’s first out lesbian governors. She would join Maura Healey in Massachusetts, who is also expected to become the country’s first openly gay governor. Kotek has a long track record of legislative accomplishments, including expanding abortion access, raising the minimum wage, investing $50 million in clean energy and passing legislation that guarantees sick leave for all workers.

Democrat Christine Drazan

Despite a lack of resources and a deep bench in the state Democratic Party, Drazan’s campaign has been effective at making the case that Oregon needs conservative leadership. She has emphasized kitchen-table concerns like crime, education and quality of life. And while she has not run from her pro-life views, she has emphasized that she will be bound by Oregon’s existing laws on abortion.

Her pitch is rooted in her small-town roots, with sympathy for people struggling in a state where timber jobs have been hit by mill automation and the movement to export whole logs for overseas milling. But she has also voted against most environmental proposals that came her way in the legislature, and she is opposed to Brown’s climate legacy.

While it’s unclear whether she will pull off an upset, her campaign has been a master class in how to make the case for conservative policy in a deep-blue state. With the support of national Republican groups and a major donation from Nike co-founder Phil Knight, her campaign appears to have tapped into a swath of voters who would not have voted for Kotek under any circumstances.

Independent Betsy Johnson

Licensed fixed-wing and helicopter pilot, Johnson has operated aviation-related businesses. She has also been a political organizer and worked in government and nonprofits. She first won election to the Oregon House in 2000 and later represented the state Senate. She has served on the Joint Ways and Means Committee in recent years. She has voted with Democrats in most cases but opposed major Democratic bills to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and impose more gun control measures.

Her campaign has framed itself around the issues of homelessness and public safety. She accuses Kotek of wanting to preserve tent cities that have sprung up in parks and underpasses. She is also fighting to keep her tax returns private, using the argument that her privacy interest outweighs the public’s right to know how much money she has.

Nonaffiliated candidates have a harder time in Oregon elections than those from major parties. But Johnson has a chance to pull votes away from either of the two major-party candidates, potentially throwing the race into turmoil in a reliably blue state.

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