How A Third-party Candidate Upset The Oregon Governor’s Race And Might End Democrats’ Winning Streak

Oregon has had a Democratic governor for 35 years, but this year’s contest may end the tradition thanks to a strong combination of regional and national problems, as well as a brash third-party candidate who is receiving double-digit support from voters.

Observers and campaign organisers describe the race as a jump ball between Democrats and Republicans with only a few weeks till election day.

Greg Peden, a former assistant to Democratic former governor John Kitzhaber, expressed his “great worry.” “I believe this is the closest and most complicated race we’ve ever seen, and I don’t think anyone can truly anticipate how exactly this ends up even now.”

competing with term-limited Tina Kotek, a former state house speaker, is the Democratic contender for governor; Christine Drazan, a former state house minority leader, is her Republican opponent.

But strategists from both parties claim that the third-party candidacy of former state senator Betsy Johnson, who was a Democrat while in office and is now running as an independent, is what really tightens the race.

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Her reputation as a steadfast centrist during her 20 years in the state House and Senate has followed her onto the campaign trail and could be advantageous in a state where unaffiliated voters outnumber Democrats who are registered to vote.

The average of the polls conducted by FiveThirtyEight has Johnson receiving approximately 16% of the vote, maintaining Drazan and Kotek in the mid-to high-30s. Given Oregon’s blue tint, Kotek had been the early favourite. However, since late September, Drazan has eked out a razor-thin advantage.

While Democrats have little trouble winning elections for the federal government in Oregon, the state has seen a number of close gubernatorial races, with the most recent two being decided by just 6 and 7 points, respectively. However, since President Joe Biden most recently won the Beaver State by 16 points just two years ago and Republicans haven’t won the governorship since 1982, Oregon has been excluded from the core of most prognosticators’ battleground maps this cycle.

Johnson admitted that “taking on the established two parties will be difficult and expensive” when she announced her third-party candidacy last October, but she positioned herself as “independent-minded, pro-choice [and] pro-jobs.”

Both Kotek and Drazan’s campaigns emphasise the same three issues: the economy and the working class; housing and homelessness; and public safety. Their campaigns differ on some priorities, however. Kotek’s focus includes abortion access and climate change while Drazan emphasises resource management and public education.

At the same time when many people in Oregon and elsewhere are struggling with historically high inflation, crime and housing have grown to be serious worries in the state.

Johnson has repeatedly advocated for abortion access while criticising Portland’s violence and homelessness and calling herself as a “lifelong responsible gun owner and collector.” She does this by drawing on both Democratic and Republican ideologies.

Although Johnson stated earlier this month on Fox News that “people are terrified and they’re upset,” her campaign did not reply to demands for comment for this article. Johnson also stated on education that “let’s not worry about pronouns.” Let’s concentrate on mathematics.

Third-party Candidate Upset The Oregon Governor's Race
Third-party Candidate Upset The Oregon Governor’s Race

Johnson gets $3.75 million from Nike co-founder Phil Knight and also brings a lot of personal cash to the campaign.

When asked if Kotek would have the advantage in a two-person contest without Johnson, Oregon Democratic strategist Jake Weigler responded, “Oh, absolutely. It would likely be a more heated contest than Democrats have previously experienced. But I believe the topic would be very different.

Johnson’s potential appeal to disgruntled voters who are unwilling to support Drazan coincides with another obstacle Kotek must overcome.

Since Gov. Brown, who has been in office since 2015, is not particularly well-liked, FiveThirtyEight noted earlier this month, some Democrats are concerned that this will harm the reputation of the party and, consequently, Kotek.

Because Betsy is stealing more votes from Tina than from Christine, the contest is agonisingly close. But it’s also in part because Tina and Gov. Brown, who has a low approval rating, are often compared. That is unfair because they are very different persons with various governance philosophies, according to a former Democratic state lawmaker.

Republicans are also confident that Drazan will be able to attack several initiatives, capitalising on concerns about the economy as well as the lingering effects of violence and social justice-related upheaval in Portland, all of which occurred when Democrats had total control of Salem.

According to federal government data from 2020, Oregon has the seventh-highest number of homeless people, and according to Portland police, violent crimes including murder and assault had increased. While avoiding more contentious topics like her support for Donald Trump or abortion restrictions, Drazan has covered the airwaves with advertisements showing tents crowding Portland streets and general inquiries about Oregonians’ happiness with the current state of affairs.

“The state doesn’t want to be recognised for that, but Oregonians genuinely feel like this is just not being addressed. Although it’s a reality, we don’t want people to be deterred from visiting the state by their fear of crime, according to Oregon GOP strategist Rebecca Tweed. “Businesses are fleeing, tourists are stopping to visit, and average everyday people just don’t feel safe anymore,” she claimed. Therefore, it’s unquestionably a bigger problem.

But Kotek offers significant advantages.

The primary one is the state’s natural Democratic advantage. In voter surveys, Johnson seems to have reached a ceiling, and there are over 300,000 more Democrats registered than Republicans. Additionally, Democrats have a long history of winning government elections.

On the basis of polling, it appears to be a toss-up, but when you consider Kotek’s edge in terms of registration rates and prior results, even in close elections, Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, believes that advantage still has to be with Kotek. “The Republicans have a long hill to climb.”

In terms of policy, Kotek is putting a lot of pressure on Drazan to be more clear about how she’d handle the issue if she were governor. Additionally, Kotek is attempting to associate her Republican opponent with the most extreme wing of the party by bringing up Drazan’s public support for the entire ticket, which includes a senator running for office who has stated support for aspects of the QAnon conspiracy theory.

An advertising campaign, which includes a video linking Drazan’s abortion views to those of Supreme Court justices who said they would support Roe v. Wade during their confirmation hearings before voting to overturn it, reflects this tactic.

“Women have a fairly high voting propensity, and they tend to be more liberal. Democrats make up a larger portion of our population. And Drazan will have a very difficult campaign if female Democratic voters turn out to vote, agreed Tweed, the Republican strategist. If I were Tina Kotek, I would discuss that subject nonstop until the election is over. And if I were Drazan, I’d be doing everything I can to lean away from it.

Tweed added, “We’re already noticing that shift.” From this point forward, I believe that will only rise.

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Kotek also hasn’t shied away from crime and homelessness, producing advertisements and a housing project. Drazan also leads her platform with a strategy to “establish community safety” and address “the crisis in our streets.”

These factors are positioning the unexpectedly close contest for an explosive conclusion.

Each of the three contenders has a sizable war fund, with the Democratic Governors Association has contributed over $5 million this year while the Republican equivalent has contributed $4.1 million. Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, who won in a blue state last year, is campaigning with Drazan in Aurora on Tuesday, and Knight shifted sides from Johnson to give Drazan $1 million, which is seen as another indication of broader GOP involvement in the race.

After attending a “grassroots volunteer event with the Oregon Democrats” on Friday, Biden is scheduled to make an appearance with Kotek on Saturday, according to the White House.

Every active registered voter will receive a ballot in the mail starting on Wednesday, and they can be returned until 8 p.m. local time on Election Day, which will likely result in a high turnout.

According to Greg Leo, the former executive director of the Oregon GOP, “We’re not going to know the conclusion of this very close election until maybe Friday of that week or maybe even later.” After the polls shut, “it’s going to be a very long couple of days.”

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