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Top three Republican finisher says unaffiliated Johnson has best chance to be elected Oregon governor.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: KATHY ANEY/EAST OREGONIAN - Oregon Republican gubernatorial candidate Bridget Barton addresses the audience during a forum Thursday, March 24, 2022, at the Pendleton Convention Center.

One of the top three finishers in the Republican primary for governor is bolting the party to back the insurgent campaign of Betsy Johnson, who is running as a non-affiliated candidate for the state's top job.

Bridget Barton, a political consultant based in Lake Oswego, said on Tuesday, June 14, that she would endorse Johnson over Christine Drazan, R-Canby, the winner of the May 17 Republican primary.

Johnson, a centrist Democratic state senator, stepped down from the Senate in December to run as a centrist without a party label.

Barton's endorsement comes less than a month since she finished third out of a field of 19 Republican candidates seeking the governorship. Drazan won 22.4% of the vote, while former GOP state chair Bob Tiernan finished second with 17.5% of the vote. Barton received 10.8%.

Former House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, won the Democratic nomination.

With Kotek, Johnson and Drazan in the race, Barton said conservatives should rally around Johnson as the viable alternative to Kotek and a chance to break Democrats' winning streak in governors' races that goes back to 1986.

Kotek would continue the policies of Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat who cannot run again because of term limits, Barton said.

"Kate Brown was harmful for Oregon," Barton said. "I look at Tina Kotek and I see a woman who is dangerous. I will do everything in my means to prevent her from becoming governor."

Barton said her switch in allegiance was for one candidate in one race.

"I've been a Republican, I am a Republican, I will remain a Republican," Barton said.

Barton said she didn't agree with Johnson on every issue, particularly on abortion. Johnson is pro-choice. Barton opposes abortion.

Barton said she hoped fellow Republicans would look beyond single issues and ask themselves who the best candidate on the ballot would be to defeat Kotek.

"Betsy Johnson is a fighter — she'll stand up to Democrats," Barton said. "Christine tends to run away from conflict."

While Johnson is already the leading candidate in fundraising, Barton has connections that could be helpful to Johnson's effort.

Barton's biggest backer was Robert Freres Jr., owner of Freres Lumber in Lyons. He contributed $150,000 in his own name to Barton's campaign, while his lumber company gave $100,000.

Barton is a principal in Oregon Pathfinder, an online publication that grew out of the former print magazine, Brainstorm NW.

Barton's business partner at Third Century Solutions is Jim Pasero. He's the director of Action PAC, a political action committee that has been primarily funded by Portland industrialist Henry Swigert.

The Oregon Capital Bureau is a news partner of the Portland Tribune.

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