PORTLAND – It’s been 35 years since there was a GOP governor in Oregon, but political experts say this year the party has a rare opportunity to possibly win the state’s highest elected position.
Oregonians are frustrated with the state of the state under Democratic leadership, there’s a possible split in votes among the majority party as unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson makes a gubernatorial run and the absence of an incumbent this election as Gov. Kate Brown is term-limited.
“I think this is the best shot they’ve had in quite a few years,” Christopher McKnight Nichols, an associate professor of history at Oregon State University, said of the GOP party’s chances. “The clear logic is that if you’ve got a strong independent, and if they can pull enough Democrats, and you can hold enough Republicans in an election that requires a plurality, you may well be able to squeak it out.”
In a time when many Oregonians are critical of the handling of the pandemic, homeless crisis, lack of affordable housing, increasing gun violence and growing urban and rural divide, Republican candidates say Democrats – who control the House, Senate and governor’s seat – are to blame.
“Oregon cannot survive another four years of this,” Republican candidate Christine Drazan said at her gubernatorial run announcement in January.
Brown has historically low approval ratings, which could play a factor in this gubernatorial race. Nichols believes if Democratic front runners – former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and state Treasurer Tobias Read – are linked to Brown, it could result in a scenario “where there’s just enough chipping away at the strongest Democrat in the race to make it quite competitive.”
While Oregon is recognized as blue state, known for the liberal city of Portland, some political experts say there is also a purple hue – with conservative rural swaths and unaffiliated voters. Several rural counties have even discussed seceding from Oregon and joining Idaho, where their conservative values better align.
But in a crowded field, where recent polling shows a close race, which candidate will be nominated as the leading figure for their party has yet to be decided.
The GOP frontrunner among 19 candidates in the party primary is former Oregon House Republican leader Drazan. The Canby lawmaker was first elected in 2018 and became the minority leader the following year. Drazan has received support from her former colleagues, with more than three-fourths of Oregon’s Republican state representatives endorsing her.
Drazan has leaned on her experience in the Legislature, noting that she has faced off against Gov. Kate Brown and 2022 Democratic candidate for governor Tina Kotek, at times leading GOP walkouts to block progressive bills.
“I have been in the trenches,” Drazan said in January. “My experience makes me uniquely qualified to stand up for you and bring change to our state.”
Bob Tiernan, a lawyer and corporate consultant who served in the Legislature in the 1990s and chaired the Oregon Republican Party, stood out among other candidates. The Lake Oswego resident touted his experience in both government and the private sector.
“Being governor requires being the chief executive over multibillion-dollar bureaucracies with tens of thousands of employees,” Tiernan said, as he kicked off his campaign in February. “My professional background includes managing large multibillion-dollar and million-dollar retailers with thousands of employees.”
Other notable Republican candidates include Salem oncologist Bud Pierce, conservative writer Bridget Barton, Medford businesswoman Jessica Gomez, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, former Alsea School District Superintendent Marc Thielman, anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore and Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten.
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