Wednesday: Kotek maintains small lead over Drazan for governor
Democrat Tina Kotek clung to a one-point lead over Republican Christine Drazan for the governorship as of Wednesday, Nov. 9, but initial results from Tuesday's election suggest that their race only reinforced Oregon's political divide.
Nearly 1.5 million ballots had been tallied as of 9 a.m. Wednesday.
Oregon has 3 million registered voters. A statewide return rate of 70% or better is typical for a non-presidential election year. In 2018, it was 67.8%. In 2014, it was 70.9%.
With nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, who trailed both, Oregon's general election race for governor was the nation's first with three prominent women. There were four other states where a Democratic woman faced a Republican woman, but in three of them, the incumbent won. Arizona, which has an open seat, had not yet been called.
The Oregon race was to succeed Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who will have served nearly two full terms when she leaves office Jan. 9, minus the 38 days John Kitzhaber completed in his fourth term before he resigned amid an ethics scandal in February 2015.
Oregon will be only the third state in which a woman has succeeded a woman as governor. The others are Arizona and New Mexico.
Democrats have been elected Oregon governor since the 1982 re-election of Republican Vic Atiyeh. That is the longest streak for either major party for that office in Oregon history. Most of those 10 previous elections were relatively close, except in 1998.
Kotek appeared poised to continue that streak, though narrowly.
Kotek, a former House speaker from Portland, won where Democrats usually win statewide these days. That area consists of Multnomah, Washington and Hood River counties, Lane and Benton counties — home to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University — and Clatsop and Lincoln counties on the coast.
Drazan, a former House minority leader from Canby, won everywhere else: Mid-Willamette Valley, Southern, Central and Eastern Oregon.
Harney County, historically Oregon's most Republican, voted 77.6% for her. (In Deschutes County, however, Drazan was running at 46%, Kotek at 42.5%.)
Kotek is expected to add to her total in Multnomah County, where half the ballots remain to be counted. She was winning there with 70%.
Drazan is expected to add to her total in Clackamas County, which has delayed public updates of its count until Wednesday night, but she was defeating Kotek there by a relatively slim 47% to 43%. Clackamas County has sided with Democrats for president in recent years, but has gone for a Republican in many down-ballot races.
Kotek did not claim victory in a brief appearance with supporters Tuesday night.
"Every vote counts and every vote has to be counted," she said. "It looks like we might be waiting a little while before things are official — and that's OK, because we want to make sure that every Oregonian who turned in their ballot gets heard.
"For now, I want to say 'thank you.' This campaign was powered by hard-working people who want to build a better future for Oregon. I'm so grateful for our amazing coalition of supporters. Their dedication and hard work made all the difference in the world."
Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic legislator from Scappoose, conceded on Tuesday. She drew about 9% statewide in her bid to become only the second Oregon governor not affiliated with a party. Her best showings were in the counties she represented in the Legislature — 23% in Clatsop County, 21.4% in Columbia County — but she still lost to Kotek in Clatsop County and to Drazan in Columbia County.
"I'll begin by stating the obvious: It's more fun to win than to lose, but when I decided to run for governor without any party affiliation, to run as an Oregonian, not as a D or an R, I knew the odds were very long and I didn't care," Johnson told supporters gathered at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in St. Helens, in remarks reported by Portland television station KOIN, a news partner of Pamplin Media Group. "Over the last 30 years, I've been on the ballot 16 times. My record was a perfect 16 until now and while that winning record is now broken, I have absolutely no regrets and make no apologies for joining this fight for Oregon."
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