Oregon Governor Race: Unexpectedly Competitive with Independent Candidates

Oregon 2022 Governor Race

Oregon is a deeply blue state, but this governor’s race has turned into one of the most competitive in the country. It’s mainly because of Johnson, who is running as an independent. She is backed by Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who has poured money into her campaign.

She opposes abortion rights and has a conservative social agenda.

Democrat Tina Kotek

The former House speaker earned the support of labor unions, progressive advocacy groups and national Democrats in her bid to become Oregon’s first openly lesbian governor. Kotek is expected to win the race, making her one of two new openly lesbian governors along with Maura Healey in Massachusetts.

During the campaign, Kotek vowed to follow through on initiatives that she passed while in the legislature, including a statewide rent control law and a measure to allow cities to build duplexes and triplexes despite neighborhood zoning restrictions. She also promised to increase the state’s supply of affordable housing.

Kotek named Tim Inman, her former chief of staff in the House, to lead her transition team. He will take a partial leave of absence from his job as university secretary on the University of Oregon Board of Trustees to work with her. He grew up on a family farm in Elmira, Oregon. Inman is a lifelong Oregonian.

Democrat Betsy Johnson

The race for Oregon governor would normally have been a two-party contest between Democratic nominee Tina Kotek and Republican nominee Christine Drazan, both former members of the state House. However, a timber heiress named Betsy Johnson entered the race as an independent candidate and quickly amassed a large war chest. Johnson tried to portray herself as a centrist alternative to the Democratic establishment and a foil to Kotek’s right-wing populism, but she never gained much traction in the polls.

According to a new poll, Drazan and Kotek are in a dead heat with less than five weeks remaining until Election Day. The poll was conducted by Nelson Research in Portland. The results suggest that the nonaffiliated candidate may be able to win in Washington and Multnomah counties, but not other areas of the state. In those areas, voters have the option to send their ballots by mail or drop them off at official ballot drop sites.

Independent Christine Drazan

As a lobbyist and legislator, Drazan has spent decades digging into the nitty-gritty details of paying for Oregon schools, social services and other programs. As a minority leader in the House, she forged a reputation as a deal maker. She cites, in particular, the police reform laws that she helped enact and her vote with Democrats for free menstrual products in school bathrooms as part of her appeal to centrist Republicans and independents.

Her stances have also enabled her to keep pace with the Democratic and Republican nominees in the race to replace term-limited Gov. Kate Brown, who has a lower-than-expected popularity rating. Her backers include timber and construction companies and Oregon Realtors, as well as Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

Despite her social conservatism and opposition to abortion rights, she might not stand much of a chance in a typical Oregon gubernatorial election. But she has a shot at winning over the state’s nonaffiliated voters, who are projected to make up about a third of the ballots.

Independent Betsy Johnson

The heir to a timber fortune, Johnson, the unaffiliated candidate, pitches herself as someone who will buck party elites. She argues that policies from Democratic Gov. Kate Brown will leave Oregon “woke and broke,” while her Republican opponent Christine Dranzan would endanger women’s rights, while touting the backing of Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

The idea of someone beholden to nobody, save voters, sweeping in to make bold change and rid the political system of its inequities has long been a popular one. Plenty of third-party or independent candidates have tried, but most fizzle.

But this year, the Oregon race is more competitive than expected. A surprisingly strong Republican challenge from Drazan and the emergence of Johnson, who has siphoned some left-leaning votes from Kotek, is putting Democrats on edge in the reliably blue state. If the trend continues, a Republican could become the state’s first governor in 36 years. A lot will depend on the final tally.

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