November 26, 2022

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

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

Kristyna Wentz-Graff/OPB

According to early election results, Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan were tied in a tight Oregon governor’s race that may not be decided for days.

Preliminary returns released around 8 p.m. Tuesday showed Kotek with a slight lead, but vote counting is expected to continue through election night and beyond. Betsy Johnson, who was running as an unaffiliated candidate, was a distant third.

Oregon’s race drew national attention before Election Day: It was one of the most competitive gubernatorial races in the nation, with three former state lawmakers vying for the seat.

Related: Live election results from Oregon and the Northwest.

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

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

All three candidates were well-funded, and even before the final push, this was the most expensive gubernatorial race in state history; both Drazan and Johnson received millions of dollars in financial backing from Nike co-founder Phil Knight. Kotek also had strong support, bringing 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: A champion of housing

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

While serving as House Speaker, Kotek pushed for statewide rent control and a measure to allow some cities to build duplexes and triplexes to increase the housing stock, despite zoning restrictions. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, he also pushed to convert motels into emergency shelter beds to increase the supply of beds for the homeless.

Kotek said it was time to get “serious about building a lot more housing” and vowed that would happen under his tenure.

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

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

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

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Drazan: He says Oregon needs a change

Drazan was first elected to the Oregon House in 2018 and quickly rose to lead her caucus after less than a year on the job. He carved out a reputation as a politician unafraid to deploy tough tactics, and his tenure was marked by cash registers, reckoning and partisanship.

He led his party in Reno, Nevada, in 2020 to block a Democratic bill aimed at combating climate change by regulating carbon emissions. the Democrats’ agenda and get their party an equal number of seats on a legislative redistricting committee.

Drazan’s supporters said it was a major show of strength, and under his leadership, Republicans won an additional seat in the House in 2021, the party’s first gain in a decade.

During the campaign, Drazan promised to allow increased logging in Oregon, reduce trade regulations and declare a state of emergency on the homeless. That statement, he said, could allow him to challenge a federal court ruling that limited when homeless encampments could be forcibly removed.

Drazan was less vocal about his anti-abortion stance and downplayed any possible role he might play in rolling back protections on abortion access in Oregon. Democrats hoped outrage over the U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion decisions this summer would boost turnout, and Kotek and his supporters spent the campaign trying to portray Drazan as a political extremist.

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

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

Kristyna Wentz-Graff / OPB

Johnson: Neither side is working

Shortly after Johnson announced his candidacy for governor, he had the financial backing of some of the state’s wealthiest people.

Johnson promised to unite the two parties and tried to offer an alternative to Democratic control in Oregon without turning the state red. The veteran lawmaker left the Democratic party to run as an unaffiliated candidate. But despite the large sums of money, his campaign did not gain much traction.

Johnson, who is a lumber heiress and was the state’s top budget writer for several years, consistently trailed in the polls behind Drazan and Kotek.

Near the end of the run, Johnson was often asked if she could act as a spoiler candidate, helping to elect Drazan to office.

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

“This is a solidly pro-choice state, and it will remain so,” Johnson said in an earlier interview with OPB.

Despite the dismal survey, he said he would not abandon the race.

“Sitting 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 a place I love without one hell of a fight.”

This is a developing story and may be updated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *