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President on governor nominee at fundraiser: 'She's rational, she's smart, she knows what needs to be done.'

PMG PHOTO: JOHN LARIVIERE - President Joe Biden snaps a few photos with supporters during a speech in Portland on Saturday, Oct. 15.

President Joe Biden says his three-state western swing, including parts of two days in Portland, will help Democrats generally and Tina Kotek's bid for Oregon governor specifically.

The ultimate proof will come in the Nov. 8 election, mail ballots for which will go to Oregon voters starting Wednesday, Oct. 19.

But in a span of less than 24 hours this past weekend, Biden spoke to Democratic volunteers making calls on behalf of Kotek and other Democrats — he spoke to some of the recipients, too — and attended a fundraiser for her just before he flew back home to Wilmington, Del.

A public event had been planned for Pioneer Courthouse Square, but was scrubbed at the last minute in favor of a stop at Local 49 of Service Employees International Union in Southeast Portland, where telephone canvassing was going on.

Biden and Kotek even stopped for ice cream (chocolate chip for him) at a Baskin-Robbins store en route to Portland International Airport.

"I think she's going to win. I really do," he told reporters Saturday while getting ice cream. "I think people are going to show up and vote. I think it's going to work."

At the earlier fundraiser, coverage of which was limited to a White House press pool, he said this about Kotek: "I could go into specific detail … about what Tina is for and what she's not for. But the truth of the matter is, she's rational, she's smart — she knows what needs to be done."

Biden, in between the campaign events, also spoke for 25 minutes Saturday to about 400 people gathered at the East Portland Community Center.

Most of the focus was on Kotek, a former Oregon House speaker who is in a three-way race with Republican Christine Drazan — a former House minority leader from Canby — and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson of Scappoose, also a former Democratic lawmaker.

Oregon also has three open seats in the U.S. House that are closely contested by the parties. Sen. Ron Wyden — a colleague with Biden for 13 years — is likely to win his bid for a sixth full term.

Biden also stopped in Colorado and California, mixing political and public events.

Oregon has elected only Democrats to the governorship — the longest streak for either major party in state history — since Republican Vic Atiyeh won his second term in 1982. But in only one of those 10 elections did the Democrat win in a landslide — Gov. John Kitzhaber over Republican Bill Sizemore, 63% to 30%, in 1998.

Kitzhaber got a boost from President Barack Obama's campaign visit in 2010, when Kitzhaber edged Republican Chris Dudley for a record third term in the closest contest for Oregon governor since 1956.

Effect of visit

Republicans say Biden's visit will not have the same result, given the unpopularity of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who is term limited.

"This last ditch effort from national Democrats is proof of their hysteria as they watch Christine Drazan take hold of once deep-blue Oregon that is desperate for change," said Kaitlin Price, a spokeswoman for the Republican Governors Association, which has contributed more than $5 million to the Drazan campaign.

Nike co-founder Phil Knight has now given $1 million to Drazan, after giving Johnson $3.75 million. He is the largest single individual contributor to both.

Republicans are hoping Johnson will play the same role as Al Mobley, an independent anti-abortion candidate who won a modern record 13% for governor in 1990. Mobley's candidacy likely took votes away from Republican Dave Frohnmayer and ensured the election of Democrat Barbara Roberts, who got 46%.

But Bill Bradbury — a former Oregon secretary of state, 2010 candidate for governor and 1992 Oregon presidential campaign chair for Bill Clinton when he was majority leader in the Oregon Senate — said Biden's visit helps Democrats.

"A lot of people don't like Joe Biden," said Bradbury, who spoke last week at an online event for Kotek. "But the reality is that it motivates the Democratic base that is critical to Tina Kotek's victory, so it's a good thing that he is coming."

KC Hanson, Democratic Party of Oregon chair, echoed Bradbury.

"President Biden understands just how much is at stake this November: defending reproductive rights, protecting our democracy, standing up for working families, and so much more," Hanson said after Biden's visit with Democratic volunteers.

"This is the most important election in Oregon in decades — the future of Oregon is at stake. It's all hands on deck to elect Democrats up and down the ballot, from Tina Kotek and Ron Wyden to Christina Stephenson (nonpartisan candidate for labor commissioner) and our congressional and legislative candidates."

It was Biden's second visit to Oregon this year. He stopped at Portland International Airport on April 21 to promote his $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending plan that Congress passed last year.

GOP rollback?

Though Biden's talk at the East Portland Community Center was not a political event, many nurses and union employees were on hand. Biden also took aim at Republicans, saying that if they wrest control of Congress from the thin Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, they will try to undo the recent legislation that contains $370 billion in incentives for carbon-free energy and climate-change adaptation, plus a new minimum tax on large corporations and health-care changes. (The Inflation Reduction Act passed with no GOP support, unlike the infrastructure spending last year and another plan this year to boost federal support for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and scientific research.)

He focused on the latter category:

"Let me be clear about what that means. If Republicans in Congress have their way, the power we just gave for Medicare to negotiate drug prices is gone. The $2,000 cap on prescription drug prices (under Medicare) goes away. Gone. The $35 (monthly) cap on insulin? Gone. Savings on health care premiums we just got for millions of Americans? Gone. And it's not just the Inflation Reduction Act they want to get rid of. They're still determined to get rid of the Affordable Care Act."

At the Kotek fundraiser afterward, Biden said the Republican Party is still in thrall to his predecessor, Donald Trump, who continues to make false claims about the 2020 election — and only a handful of Republicans have challenged him openly.

"And so, as long as Trump controls the Republican Party, he's going to have an incredible impact on state legislative bodies, and state governors as well," Biden said.

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