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A new poll shows Bud Pierce and Christine Drazan leading, but two-thirds of Oregon GOP voters don't have a favorite.

{img:332279}A new poll released Thursday, April 14, shows that Bud Pierce and Christine Drazan are pulling ahead of the rest of the crowd of candidates seeking the GOP nomination for governor.

But the Republican race is definitely up for grabs, according to the poll. A whopping 67.9% of respondents said they are still undecided, with fewer than five weeks to go before the May 17 primary — and just two weeks from mail ballots going to voters. None drew double-digit support in the poll, although a few candidates were omitted.

"The field is wide open," said J.L. Wilson, president of Nelson Research, a Salem firm 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. Of the Republican voters sampled, about 95% said they were "very likely" to cast ballots in the race for the position being vacated by Democrat Kate Brown, who cannot run again because of 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, is an oncologist and hematologist in Salem, and a former president of the Oregon Medical Association. He was the surprise 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, who turns 50 this year, 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 had been 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 got 6.5 percent, followed by Drazan at 6.3 percent; Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, 4.2 percent, and Bob Tiernan of Lake Oswego, a former lawmaker and former state party chair, 3.5 percent.

Of the other nine Republicans listed in the survey, no one else reached 3 percent.

When "undecideds" were asked who they "lean 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 percent, Drazan, 8.2 percent, and Pulliam, Tiernan and Sizemore with 5.2 percent each. None of the other candidates broke 4 percent, 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 percent."

"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 only 23 percent 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 just one 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. But she polled only 3.8% in the field, even with 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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