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The Portland-area state senator is now ahead by half a point in the tight Democratic primary.

COURTESY PHOTO: SHEMIA FAGAN - Shemia FaganState Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton was leading the field of three Democratic contenders for Oregon secretary of state for nearly a full day after election results were first posted Tuesday evening, May 19.

But with a major update to the vote count at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 20, it's now his leading rival in the primary, state Sen. Shemia Fagan of Happy Valley, who is in pole position to be Democrats' nominee in the high-profile race.

Fagan has made late gains even in Hass strongholds like Washington County, which Hass has represented in the Oregon Legislature for the better part of 20 years, and Clackamas County, which tends to favor more moderate Democrats. As of Wednesday evening, she holds 36% of the statewide vote to 35.6% for Hass.

Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Terrebonne is running a strong third with 27.7%, and she is carrying many counties in Eastern Oregon. McLeod-Skinner conceded the race earlier Wednesday.

The Oregonian/OregonLive.com called the primary for Hass on Tuesday night. But reached by Oregon Public Broadcasting, a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group, Hass declined to declare victory, saying he wanted to wait for the rest of the votes to be counted.

A longtime legislator, Hass is considered a steady hand in Salem. He's an influential member of the Democratic caucus and played a leading role in the crafting and passage of the Student Success Act last year. Hass described the legislation — about $1 billion annually for education, generated from a tax on business sales — as the pinnacle of his legislative career, and he told the Pamplin Media Group in August that he wasn't running for re-election.

"I think my work in the Legislature is complete," Hass said at the time.

Hass has never been cozy with the large labor unions that provide vital support for Oregon Democrats, and he alienated them further when he voted for legislation last year to redirect a share of public-pension contributions to help pay down Oregon's rising pension debt. Unions bitterly opposed the legislation, which Fagan voted against.

Fagan entered the race late, announcing her candidacy in February after former House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson dropped out. However, she quickly built up a formidable campaign, outraising Hass and McLeod-Skinner. She received much of her financial contributions from labor unions.

The role of insurgent is not an unfamiliar one to Fagan. She won her seat in the Senate in 2018 by primarying then-Sen. Rod Monroe on a platform of tenants' rights and progressive housing laws.

Since joining the Senate, Fagan has emerged as a leading critic of Democratic leadership, notably voting against longtime Senate President Peter Courtney to serve as presiding officer for the 2019-20 Legislature.

The Democratic nominee will face state Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, in the general election.

Democrats lost this race four years ago, when then-Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, defeated Brad Avakian in an upset. It was the first statewide office that Oregon Republicans had captured in years.

Oregon's secretary of state oversees elections, audits and business registrations. Since Oregon does not have a lieutenant governor, the secretary of state is constitutionally next in line to the governorship.

The current secretary of state, Bev Clarno, was appointed last year following Richardson's death. She did not seek a full term.

Election results remain unofficial until they're certified, and the vote count could change further as more ballots are counted.

By Mark Miller
Washington County Editor
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