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Early returns have challenger less than 1% ahead of incumbent state senator, but there's a ways to go

The later Tuesday night returns in the battle for Senate District 20 indicate nearly a dead heat between Democrat Mark Meek and Republican incumbent Bill Kennemer.

The dramatically redrawn Oregon Senate district in Clackamas County, covering the majority of Gladstone, Oregon City, Happy Valley, Mulino and other cities, has been considered a battleground district within the Oregon Senate.

The 11 p.m. returns see Meek holding onto a 50.33% to 49.56% lead in the battle, with more votes to be counted through the night and into the rest of the week.

FILE PHOTO - Mark Meek

Meek, the challenger, said he was "very proud of the campaign we've run. I've got a great organization and a fantastic team. I knocked on over 7,000 doors talking to voters this year and I'm fairly encouraged by the early results. I'm thankful for our Senate District 20 voters being engaged, energized and informed."

Meek noted that the vast number of doors was similar to what he'd done in 2016 and 2018, though admitted that it was probably more this year. He felt that those he interacted with were "encouraged that I was interested enough to talk to them. It's old school, and I think that's relevant."

He noted that he talked to a large variety of residents — from low-income housing to people in million-dollar homes "and I think people appreciated that. The feedback and perspective were very informative."

FILE PHOTO - Bill Kennemer

Now he, like Kennemer, will wait to see what the late night and rest of the week numbers do to their Senate District 20 fortunes.

For his part, Kennemer sees plenty of positives in the close race as early votes are counted.

"At the first tally, I was down about 300 votes and, frankly, we Republicans see that as a pretty good sign," Kennemer said. "A lot of Republicans were holding their ballots, so we're in the race."

Kennemer said that one of the things he's hearing in Clackamas County, the state and even nationally is the need for change.

"When I talk to people, it's clear that one party rule has lost its balance," he said. "What we need in Oregon is some balance and that's what we're seeing tonight. My race is pivotal. If I win this race, the Republicans can move into a 15-15 split or even better than that in the Senate and that could change the face of Oregon politics. That's why there was a fortune spent on this race."

Kennemer noted that there were a lot of votes still to count and with a close battle brewing, it could be days before a winner emerges. He said he's optimistic about where the race is headed.

"You want to be careful. There are a lot of votes still to count. I think we usually do a little better as we progress," Kennemer said. "I'm optimistic, but you know it's not over until it's over."

Both candidates, and their parties, threw big amounts of money into the Senate District 20 race, topping a combined $4 million by the time the polls closed.

Kennemer had served nearly two decades in the state Legislature through a quartet of different assignments that date back to the '80s. He was also a three-term Clackamas County commissioner from 1997 to 2008.

Meek was elected the Oregon House six years ago, and that district makes up a part of the new House District 20 map.

Senate District 20 election

Mark Meek — 16,055.

Bill Kennemer — 15,828.

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