Moore said “Betsy Johnson turned into a regular third-party candidate, taking a bit more from Kotek than Drazan, but not having a tremendous impact at less than 9% of the vote,”
BEND, OR — Outside the Kevista Coffeeshop in this Central Oregon city on the morning after the election, a fresh layer of snow covered the ground, the drifts building around a row of political yard signs supporting Republican candidates.
Inside the cozy shop, voter Matt Bryant bucks the majority voter sentiment in this part of the state, declaring his relief that the Red Wave ended up being more of a ripple in Oregon.
PAY ATTENTION: Please help us grow! Follow us on Facebook ➡️ Click here! Don't worry we will tip you 😉💵
“I am happy to see some of the Democrats have won,” said Bryant, who describes himself as a progressive. “Republicans in my opinion don’t have any policies that try to help actual people.”
Bryant, 44, lives in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, which may go red as Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer is leading Democrat Jaime McLeod-Skinner in a tight race. But he’s glad the Governor’s Mansion will remain occupied by a Democrat. Tina Kotek beat Republican Christine Drazan in a close race for governor, the Associated Press declaring her the winner late on Thursday.
As of Thursday evening, Kotek had 47.1% of the vote compared to Drazan’s 43.5%, with 86% of the votes counted. Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat who tried to run a middle-of-the-road campaign, saying she would take the best ideas from both parties, won 8.6% of the vote.
The results have been somewhat slow to come this year because ballots can still be counted if they were postmarked by 8 p.m. on election day, per the state’s vote-by-mail system. In previous elections, ballots had to be received on election day.
Although not all races have been finalized, the results in Oregon and nationwide were surprising, said David Bernell, an Oregon State University professor of political science.
“The Democrats outperformed expectations,” said Bernell. “They bucked what is one of the few solid predictions people can make in politics — the law of political gravity that says that the party in the White House tends to lose pretty significantly in the midterm elections, especially in the second year of a new president.”
In the Oregon gubernatorial race, it was Johnson’s campaign, and her surprisingly high poll numbers during the race, that attracted attention over the summer and into late fall.
A month before the election, Johnson held 20% voter support, according to polls. Democrats worried she would play the role of the spoiler, pulling votes away from Kotek, who was in a dead heat with Drazan. For much of the past month, it looked like Drazan — a former leader of the Republican minority in the Oregon House — had a chance to be the first Republican elected governor of Oregon in 40 years.
The tie going into November prompted President Biden to make a campaign appearance with Kotek in Portland.
All three candidates had amassed large war chests to sway voters on hot button issues, which in Oregon focussed squarely on inflation, crime, homelessness, abortion rights, and access to guns.
The total funds spent reached nearly $69 million, a record for an Oregon governor’s race. Kotek led the funding spree, raising $29.4 million, followed by Drazan’s $22.5 million and Johnson’s $17.5 million. Their coffers overflowing, voters were subjected to relentless political attack ads, which painted Drazen as a far right extremist and Kotek as a reason for Oregon crime and housing woes.
The dynamics of the race changed in the final few weeks, said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, as voters gravitated toward the mainstream candidates.
“Betsy Johnson turned into a regular third-party candidate, taking a bit more from Kotek than Drazan, but not having a tremendous impact at less than 9% of the vote,” said Moore.
Kotek’s victory keeps the West Coast “Big Blue Wall” intact. She takes the reins from Kate Brown, who served since 2015 but could not run again due to term limits.
During her term in office, Brown had forged an alliance with fellow West Coast Democrat governors – including California’s Gavin Newsom, and Washington’s Jay Inslee – to cooperate on COVID lockdowns, climate change regulations, abortion access, and other issues of regional and national importance.
On Tuesday Newsom beat back a challenge from Republican challenger Brian Dahle. Inslee’s term as Washington governor ends in 2025.
Kotek, the longest-serving Speaker of the House in the Oregon state legislature, is eager to show that she is different from Kate Brown, ranked in some polls as America’s least popular governor. She campaigned on a platform of distancing herself from Brown and has vowed to deal with Oregon’s homeless crisis and rising urban crime, two problems that festered under Brown’s leadership.
She has also promised to address the state’s housing shortage and affordability. As Speaker, she helped pass legislation that allowed some cities to increase their housing stock by building more duplexes and triplexes. She also passed statewide bills on rent control.
And while it hasn’t figured as a talking point in Oregon, Kotek makes history as America’s first out lesbian elected governor along with Maura Healey, the newly elected governor in Massachusettes. Kotek is married to Aimee Wilson, a social worker.
Down the road from the Kevista coffee shop, at a McDonald’s restaurant, 34-year-old Michael Hagert was having breakfast alone during the chilly post-election morning. Hagert, a Walmart greeter in Bend, does not belong to a political party and said he votes for whoever he thinks will do the best job. This time he gave his vote to Drazan.
“I didn’t really care for Kotek, I think (Drazan) was a better person,” said Hagert, a native of Medford in southern Oregon.
But Hagert isn’t surprised that Kotek won, he’s lived in Oregon most his life and watched the state change, getting bluer each election cycle. While saying “hello” to folks walking through the door at Walmart he can tell there is a demographic shift going on in the Beaver State.
“A lot of people are moving here from California and other states, the East Coast, everywhere, they bring their politics. It’s becoming more Democrat, it’s not surprising it’s Kotek (winning).”
Beyond the governor’s race, slavery was also on the ballot in Oregon, with Measure 112 asking voters if they want to remove constitutional language allowing for slavery and involuntary servitude when used as a punishment for a crime. While the measure passed 56% to 44%, Moore was surprised more than 740,000 people voted against the measure.
“In other states where this passed, it was not even close, 80-20 or 70-30. I fear the result will just contribute to the narrative about deep-seated and unacknowledged racism in Oregon,” said Moore.
Measure 114, which calls for stricter firearms regulations, is too close to call but was leaning “yes” with 51% wanting to adopt the measure, and 86% of the votes counted as of Thursday. If passed, the measure will make Oregon one of the most difficult places to purchase a firearm, an unusual twist in a state where “Ore-gun” bumper stickers are a common sight in rural areas.
The new rules for buying a gun include submitting fingerprints, taking a safety course, passing a background check, and paying a fee before the individual can obtain a five-year permit for all gun purchases. In addition, the sale of high-capacity magazines, which contain 10 or more rounds, is banned. Bryant at the coffee shop voted to support the measure.
“Go to a gun range if you want to shoot off a large clip. But you don’t need a 30-round clip to defend your house, there is no army coming to get you,” he said.
NRA supporters call it the nation’s most extreme gun control initiative. Supporters say it will save lives. Political watchers say both sides could politicize the issue.
“Measure 114 will probably give a shot in the arm to advocates of greater gun control, showing them a pathway to get stronger restrictions in place,” said Bernell, the OSU political science professor.
“It will certainly galvanize the pro-gun advocates and the GOP to strengthen their efforts, as they have a real example of the quote-unquote, liberals coming to take your guns away,” he added.
Controversy over the law is unlikely to go away. At least one sheriff in Oregon has already declared she will not enforce at least one part of the law.
Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan declared on Facebook the day after the election that the measure was “poorly written” and “a terrible law for gun owners, crime victims, and public safety.” She declared that she would not enforce the limit on magazine capacity. Passage of the law will result in a lawsuit, she added.
In other key Oregon races, the state’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Ron Wyden easily defeated Jo Rae Perkins, 56% to 41%. Perkins has a background in the financial services industry but had never held an elected office.
Perkins denies the 2020 election results, has voiced support for QAnon conspiracy theorists, opposes abortion for any reason, and opposed mask and vaccine mandates during the pandemic. But she received little backing from her own party, raising just $92,000, a fraction compared to Wyden’s $13.8 million war chest.
In congressional races. Democrat Andrea Salinas is leading her Republican rival Mike Erickson in a close race in Oregon’s newly created 6th Congressional District, awarded to Oregon because of population growth reflected in the 2020 census. The new district is one of the most diverse in the state, including both rural areas that support agriculture and timber, as well as urban areas with mixed demographics.
In the 5th Congressional District race, current leader Lori Chavez-DeRemer is a former mayor of Happy Valley, a Portland suburb with a population of around 24,000. If she hangs on to win, Chavez-DeRemer will have flipped the seat out of Democrat’s hands — it had been held by Democrat Congressman Kurt Schrader since 2009 until he was ousted by McLeod-Skinner in the May primary.
If DeRemer and Salinas are declared winners, they will be the first Latinx community members to represent Oregon in Congress.
Moore says that the proportion of registered Democrats to Republicans in Oregon is around 60% to 40% and the state’s congressional delegation should vaguely reflect that. The results of this year’s election could make the delegation go from 80% Democrat and 20% Republican to 67% Democrat and 33% Republican.
“Pretty close to the partisan breakdown in the entire state,” said Moore.
The closeness of the gubernatorial race and the 5th and 6th congressional district races shows that Oregon is more purple than most people realize, he said.
“It has always been purple but that is now more obvious to national observers who have not really looked carefully at Oregon politics as we reliably voted for Democrats for statewide office and our congressional delegation,” said Moore.
Other states could take a close look at the results of the election in Oregon to get a clear read on the direction the country is taking.
“We will simply be part of the tea leaves that prognosticators use to look at the 2024 presidential election,” said Moore. “Democrats hanging onto overwhelming control gives them hope that the 2024 battles will take place in Republican states, not defensively in Democratic states.”
Back at the Kevista Coffee Shop in Bend, the progressive voter Bryant takes another sip of coffee and laments that he could not withhold his vote from Democrats as a way to protest both mainstream parties.
In the end, he supported Kotek and other Democrats to try to prevent any Republican candidate from winning. “The majority of them believe in complete and utter nonsense,” he said of Republican candidates. He believes that most people who vote Republican have been misled by politicians and “crazy” election deniers.
“Republican leaders are not looking out for people’s best interests, they are looking out for corporate interests, for their own interests,” said Byant. “Democrats can be the same sometimes but for the most part they are going to try to help people.”