The Battlegrounds: Oregon Governor
By Louis Jacobson
Democratic-held open seat
Democratic nominee: Former House Speaker Tina Kotek
Republican nominee: Former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan
Independent candidate: Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson
Oregon is a state that generally votes Democratic, but with the unpopularity of term-limited Democratic incumbent Kate Brown, this contest has become unexpectedly wide open.
It’s a three-way contest, featuring former House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat; former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, a Republican; and former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, an independent who served as a moderate, pro-business Democrat in the legislature.
Some of the Democrats’ struggles in Oregon this year stem from homelessness and violence in Portland, notably the summer of 2020, when clashes between anarchists and police made headlines. In Oregon, the frustrations inevitably fall on Democrats as the longtime party in power in both the state and its largest city.
In Drazan, the GOP nominated a relatively strong candidate, though the dynamics of the three-way race are complicated, because disaffected Democrats have the option of choosing Johnson, the independent, instead. Kotek has sought to distance herself from Brown. Meanwhile, Drazan has attacked Johnson and Kotek as career politicians, Johnson has attacked Drazan and Kotek as partisan hacks, Kotek has attacked Johnson on guns, and Johnson and Drazan have attacked Kotek as anti-police.
In July, the three candidates were neck-and-neck, but since then, Johnson has faded to the low single digits in polls. That has left Kotek and Drazan at about 39% each, according to the FiveThirtyEight polling average. With a winner emerging with potentially as little as 35% of the vote, the contest is wide open.
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