Weeks before primary, 'undecided' leads GOP governor's race
A new poll released April 14 shows that the primary for the 19 Republicans hoping to be Oregon's next governor may well come down to Bud Pierce and Christine Drazan, but the nomination is definitely up for grabs.
More than 67% of respondents said they remain undecided despite the fact there is fewer than five weeks to go before the May 17 primary and two weeks from mail ballots going to voters. None of the candidates drew double-digit support in the poll, although a few candidates were omitted.
"The field is wide open," said J.L. Wilson, president of the Salem research firm Nelson Research that conducted the telephone survey of 520 Republican voters on April 13. "A couple of candidates have separated themselves from the pack. But it's still a jump-ball game."
The poll's margin of error is 4.3 percentage points. About 95% of the respondents said they were "very likely" to cast ballots in the race for the position being vacated by Democrat Kate Brown, barred from seeking re-election due to term limits.
This year's contest is only Oregon's second in the past two decades without an incumbent or former incumbent running.
Pierce, 65, an oncologist and hematologist in Salem, is the former president of the Oregon Medical Association. He was the Republican nominee in 2016 against Brown for the two years remaining in John Kitzhaber's unexpired term.
Pierce had not run for public office before that race, but defeated Allen Alley of Lake Oswego, the party's 2008 nominee for state treasurer, 2010 candidate for governor, and former state party chairman.
Drazan, 49, left her District 39 seat in the Oregon House in the middle of her second term earlier this year to focus on her campaign. She had served as Republican leader in the House from 2019 to 2021, and was a former chief of staff to Republican Mark Simmons when he was House speaker in 2001 and 2002. She was also formerly the executive director of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon.
According to the report from Nelson Research, likely Republican voters from throughout the state were asked: "If the Republican primary for governor of Oregon were held today, which of the following candidates would you vote for?"
While nearly 68 percent of respondents were undecided, Pierce garnered 6.5%, followed by Drazan at 6.3%, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam with 4.2% and former lawmaker and state GOP chairman Bob Tiernan at 3.5%.
None of the other nine Republicans listed in the survey reached 3%.
When undecideds were asked who they were leaning toward, the added responses moved Bill Sizemore — the party's 1998 nominee, who lost to Kitzhaber with a modern record-low 30% statewide — into the top five.
With "leaners," Pierce was at 10.7%, Drazan 8.2% and Pulliam, Tiernan and Sizemore with 5.2% each. None of the other candidates broke 4%, even when "lean toward" responses were added.
Wilson said that with a field so divided and the lack of a single frontrunner, a winner could emerge from the primary with "less than 20%."
"A number of candidates in the field have built-in constituencies, whether geographic or ideological, and they are going to pull their weight," he said.
That happened in 1994, when Wes Cooley, then a state senator for just two years, emerged from a seven-candidate race with 23% as the Republican nominee for the open 2nd District congressional seat in eastern, central and southern Oregon. (Cooley went on to win the seat, which he held for a lone term).
Drazan and Tiernan so far are the two top fundraisers this year at $1.2 million each — though Tiernan, who comes from a wealthy family, lent his campaign $500,000 of that total — and also are the top two candidates with cash on hand.
Pierce was third in both categories, and Medford businesswoman Jessica Gomez — who has lost bids for Medford City Council and the Oregon Senate — was fourth. She earned 3.8% in the field, even among leaners.
"Voters largely are not too familiar with any of the candidates," Wilson said. "So that is where money in a primary is so important."
The poll was split almost evenly between men and women, and included likely Republican voters from the tri-county area, the Mid-Willamette Valley, the coast, and southern and eastern Oregon.
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