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Tina Kotek, Christine Drazan in tight race for Oregon governor

Tina Kotek, Christine Drazan in tight race for Oregon governor

Tina Kotek, Christine Drazan in tight race for Oregon governor

Tina Kotek, Christine Drazan in tight race for Oregon governor

From left: Republican candidate Christine Drazan, Democratic candidate-turned-independent Betsy Johnson and Democratic candidate Tina Kotek are vying for Oregon governor.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Dražan were locked in a tight race for Oregon governor may not be finalized for days, according to early election results.

Preliminary results released on Tuesday around 8 pm showed that Kotek had a slight lead, but the counting of votes is expected to continue during election night and beyond. Betsy Johnson, who ran as an unaffiliated candidate, was a distant third.

The Oregon race drew national attention ahead of Election Day: It was one of the most competitive gubernatorial races in the state, with three former state legislators vying for the seat.

Related: Live election results from Oregon and the Northwest.

A combination of factors made this year’s Oregon executive race particularly notable. Johnson, a former state senator, appeared to draw early votes from Democratic candidate Kotek, leaving Democrats feeling more vulnerable and Republicans hoping they could put a Republican in Mahonia Hall for the first time since 1987.

Throughout the race, Republicans have had an easy line of attack. They simply pointed to widespread homelessness in Oregon, particularly Portland, and growing concerns about crime and gun violence. They also tied Kotek with Gov. Kate Brown, who polls have shown to be one of the least popular governors in the country.

After early returns Tuesday, Drazan’s campaign expressed optimism that the race remains tight.

“We like what we see,” said John Burke of the Drazan campaign. He pointed out that Johnson’s turnout is potentially helpful in the race. As Drazan’s supporters watched the results closely, Audrey Aiken’s band performed the popular Kool & the Gang song “Ladies Night”, changing the lyrics to “Drazan’s night”.

All three candidates were well-funded, and even before the final push, this was the most expensive governor’s race in state history; both Drazen and Johnson received millions of dollars in financial support from Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Kotek also had great support and brought in a record amount from the state’s largest public union.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek and her wife Aimee Kotek Wilson speak to supporters at an election night party at Revolution Hall on May 17, 2022 in Portland, Ore.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek and her wife Aimee Kotek Wilson speak to supporters at an election night party at Revolution Hall on May 17, 2022 in Portland, Ore.

Jonathan Levinson / OPB

Kotek: Champion of housing

No legislator in recent history has done more to address the housing crisis than Kotek. As governor, she promised to do more.

While Speaker of the House, Kotek pushed through state rent controls and a measure allowing some cities to build duplexes and triplexes to increase housing stock, despite zoning restrictions. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she also pushed for motels to be converted into emergency beds to increase the supply of beds for people left homeless.

Kotek said it was time to “get serious about building a lot more housing” and promised that would happen during her term.

“On day one, I’m going to do what Kate Brown wouldn’t do,” Kotek said in the ad released on Oct. 14. “I’m going to get people the help they need to get off the streets.”

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan speaks on the campaign trail at The Barn at Countryside in Aurora, Ore., on Oct. 18, 2022.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan speaks on the campaign trail at The Barn at Countryside in Aurora, Ore., on Oct. 18, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Drazan: He says that Oregon needs change

Drazan was first elected to the Oregon House in 2018 and quickly became the leader of her club after less than a year in the job. She gained a reputation as a politician who is not afraid to use hard-nosed tactics, and her tenure was marked by departures, reading the law and partisanship.

Drazan led his party in a 2020 walkout in Reno, Nevada, to block a Democratic bill aimed at combating climate change by regulating carbon emissions. She also managed to use delaying tactics, such as forcing the bills to be read aloud, to slow the Democrats’ agenda and give her party an equal number of seats on the legislative redistricting committee.

Drazan’s supporters said it was an important show of force, and under her leadership, Republicans won an additional seat in the House of Representatives through 2021, the party’s first gain in a decade.

During the campaign, Drazen promised to allow increased logging in Oregon, reduce business regulations and declare a state of emergency for homelessness. Such a statement, she said, could allow her to challenge a federal court ruling limiting when homeless encampments can be forcibly removed.

Drazan has been less vocal about her anti-abortion stance and downplayed any possible role she might have in ending abortion access protections in Oregon. Democrats hoped anger over the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion rulings this summer would boost turnout, and Kotek and her supporters spent a campaign trying to portray Drazan as a political extremist.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson speaks with bar and restaurant owners about the problems they've faced in downtown Portland, Oct. 17, 2022.

Independent gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson speaks with bar and restaurant owners about the problems they’ve faced in downtown Portland, Oct. 17, 2022.

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Johnson: Neither side works

Shortly after Johnson announced her candidacy for governor, she had the financial backing of some of the state’s wealthiest individuals.

Johnson promised to unify the two parties and tried to offer an alternative to Democratic control in Oregon without making the state red. The veteran lawmaker left the Democratic Party to run as an unaffiliated candidate. But despite the large sums of money, her campaign failed to gain much attention.

Speaking to supporters Tuesday night, Johnson acknowledged that she will not be Oregon’s next governor.

“Although the result was below what we wanted, I believe that this campaign was successful. We made an impact,” Johnson said at her election watch party. “We sent a message that the majority of Oregonians across party lines, and no party, want big changes in our state.”

Johnson, who is a tree heiress and served as the state’s lead budget writer for several years, consistently trailed behind Dražan and Kotek in the polls.

Towards the end of the race, Johnson was often asked if she could be a spoiler candidate, helping to elect Drazan to office.

Johnson, who grew up in Oregon and supports access to abortion, said she doesn’t believe the state would ever elect a governor who opposes it.

“This is a solidly pro-choice state and it’s going to stay that way,” Johnson said in an earlier interview with OPB.

Despite poor polls, she said she would not drop out of the race.

“Sitting and watching Oregon in a death spiral, I’ve got one last fight in me, and that’s it,” Johnson said. “And I won’t give up the place I love without one hell of a fight.”

This is a developing story and may be updated.



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