Democrat Kotek keeps small lead in race for governor
Democrat Tina Kotek took an early lead in the historic three-way race for Oregon governor, but by 11 p.m. Tuesday, she was ahead of Republican Christine Drazan, 46% to 44.5%, with 1.35 million votes tallied.
Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson won't be a major factor. She had just under 9% of the statewide vote and was third in Clatsop County, which was part of the legislative district she represented for 21 years.
Kotek spoke briefly late Tuesday to supporters at a Democratic gathering in Portland, but declined to claim victory. She said:
"Every vote counts and every vote has to be counted. It looks like we might be waiting a little while before things are official — and that's OK, because we want to make sure that every Oregonian who turned in their ballot gets heard.
"For now, I want to say thank you. This campaign was powered by hard-working people who want to build a better future for Oregon. I'm so grateful for our amazing coalition of supporters. Their dedication and hard work made all the difference in the world."
The race generated a record-shattering $65 million in contributions, with the final numbers likely to top $70 million.
A Republican was last elected governor in 1982, when Vic Atiyeh won a second term. Democrats have won every race since, though sometimes by tight margins.
Johnson had sought to become just the second Oregon governor elected without a major party endorsement. She qualified for the ballot via petition.
The Republican primary victory by Drazan in a record 19-candidate field gave the GOP a nominee who was the party's minority leader in the Oregon House before stepping down to run for governor. Her campaign attracted major campaign donations from national groups, notably the Republican Governors Association.
After early polls that showed Johnson with as much as 27% of the vote, her recent showings dropped into single digits. She received $3.75 million in contributions from Nike co-founder Phil Knight through early September. But Knight switched to backing Drazan, giving her $1.5 million in October.
Knight's switch signaled Johnson's diminished role in the campaign, with many of her supporters switching to Kotek or Drazan in the final days, according to polling.
Johnson said this earlier Tuesday at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in St. Helens, according to Portland television station KOIN, a news partner of Pamplin Media Group:
"I'll begin by stating the obvious. It's more fun to win than to lose, but when I decided to run for governor without any party affiliation, to run as an Oregonian, not as a D or an R, I knew the odds were very long and I didn't care.
"Over the last 30 years, I've been on the ballot 16 times. My record was a perfect 16 until now and while that winning record is now broken, I have absolutely no regrets and make no apologies for joining this fight for Oregon."
Kotek, meanwhile, easily defeated state Treasurer Tobias Read and 13 other Democrats in a record field to win her party's primary.
All were seeking to succeed Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who was term limited after having served since Democrat John Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015, just 38 days into his fourth term, amid an ethics scandal.
Drazan and Johnson campaigned openly against Brown, one of the nation's least popular governors. Even Kotek criticized Brown — who endorsed Kotek — for not acting more promptly on homelessness once a state report was issued in 2019.
The governor's election was an extension of a bitter 2021 fight between Kotek, at nine years the longest serving House speaker, and Drazan, a former legislative staffer from Canby who had won the internal GOP caucus vote as minority leader with a promise to take a more aggressive stance against Kotek's rule in the House. Drazan had been in the House just nine months when she became leader, although she had been chief off staff to a previous Republican House speaker in 2001 and 2002.
Drazan used a parliamentary quirk to significantly slow legislation during the 2021 regular session. Kotek eventually made a deal with Drazan to give Republicans an equal say in redistricting for congressional districts in exchange for speeding up the pace on passing bills.
But when it came time for the September special session to pass redistricting maps, members had to first pass new rules and committee assignments since the session was distinct from the regular session.
The Democratic House majority created a congressional committee for redistricting that gave Democrats the majority voice.
Kotek said she was forced to make the move because of concerns Drazan would stall redistricting, which had already been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Drazan denounced Kotek for reneging on the compromise that had allowed Democrats to move their agenda without further GOP-led delays.
Drazan attempted unsuccessfully to have her censured by the House.
Both soon resigned from the Legislature to run for governor.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.