Image for Political Candidates Hit Air Waves as Oregon Primary Election Nears

Campaign ads are multiplying on TV with the Oregon primary election only a month or so away. Expect more before May 17 in Oregon’s open and hotly contested gubernatorial and Sixth Congressional District races. In the crowded GOP gubernatorial primary, no candidate polls higher than 11 percent. The Democratic gubernatorial primary is also tight, with more undecided voters than committed voters.

In the gubernatorial race, Republicans Christine Drazan, Bob Tiernan and Bridget Barton have TV spots airing. Drazan promises a tougher stance on fighting crime than Governor Brown. With his $1 million campaign, Tiernan promises to be tougher, period. Playing the part of a political outsider, Barton is seen shooting hoops in a corral near a pile of manure to punctuate the ‘Horse Sh%!’ of Oregon politicians.

Presumed Democratic frontrunner Tina Kotek has a slickly produced ad touting her many legislative achievements. Her main opponent, Tobias Read, has put up an ad signaling what he would do if elected governor.

Two Democratic congressional candidates in the new Sixth District command the most air time with huge ad buys. Political newcomer Carrick Flynn is featured in a $7 million campaign on TV and through direct mail. Cody Reynolds (Cody is his middle name) ran as a Democrat for Congress in House District 2 in 2018, an independent for the US Senate in 2016 and loaned his current congressional campaign $2 million. Flynn’s campaign has been bankrolled by a crypto billionaire and Reynolds says he is self-funding his own campaign from his cryptocurrency profits. Rep. Andrea Salinas, considered an early favorite to win the Democratic nomination, just went up with a TV ad.

With crowded primary fields, Republicans running for governor and the state’s new congressional district have struggled to distinguish themselves from their rivals before a broad cross-section of voters.

Fifth District Congressman Kurt Schrader, who faces a significant challenge in his Democratic primary, also has invested in a lot of air time talking about his record on corralling drug costs and addressing the impacts of climate change such as wildfires that ravaged parts of his district. Jamie McLeod-Skinner, Schrader’s Democratic primary opponent, is now airing a TV commercial that claims Schrader “sold out” to pharmaceutical companies that oppose lower prescription drug prices.

National prospects of a Republican ‘red wave’ in midterm elections and a belief Oregonians have tired of policies pushed by “liberal Portland politicians” has injected more than usual vigor into GOP primaries. There are 19 Republicans seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination and seven Republican hopefuls in the Sixth Congressional District. In milder and harsher tones, these candidates decry the direction of the country and state and blame Democrats.

Sixth Congressional District GOP candidate Mike Erickson, who owns a transportation logistics consulting firm in Tigard, also has logged substantial air time with a message about government overreach and his desire to be part of a Republican return to control in Congress. His campaign website mentions “guaranteeing free elections that are untainted by fraud”, a hand wave to Trump supporters who believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen.

Two Republicans with name familiarity have been lower key. Bud Pierce, who ran and lost against Brown in 2018, is running again, but without a lot of visibility. Bill Sizemore, once the king of anti-tax initiatives in Oregon, is on the ballot, but not out front, at least on TV.

With crowded primary fields, Republicans running for governor and the state’s new congressional district have struggled to distinguish themselves from their rivals before a broad cross-section of voters. The same is true for Democrats running in the Sixth District, though their problem is being overshadowed by the TV dominance of Flynn and Reynolds.

OPB has helped out by posting short, but informative campaign summaries for what it calls the most prominent GOP gubernatorial candidates. Here are snippets from the summaries:

Christine Drazan, the only candidate elected to the legislature in this decade, gained prominence by staging a House GOP walkout that killed Democratically backed environmental legislation and led to an abrupt adjournment of a special session. Raised in Klamath Falls and now a mother to three children, she says her top priority as governor would be to improve Oregon school graduation rates. Drazan claims there is too much top-down policymaking in Oregon that disrespects Oregonians. She lives in Canby.

Stan Pulliam, mayor of Sandy and a vocal detractor of Governor Brown during the COVID pandemic, sees Oregon’s top problems as a “festering culture of criminality and mass homelessness decaying every corner of our state”. He vows to expand the Oregon State Police and deputize them as US marshals so their arrests would go to federal court, not what he describes a more sympathetic Multnomah County district attorney. Pulliam’s campaign took a hit when Willamette Week reported he and his wife were part of a swingers club, a revelation that cost him an endorsement by Oregon Right to Life. Pulliam told OPB his marriage is “pretty average” and have emerged from trials “stronger than ever”.

Bob Tiernan, an attorney, two-term state legislator, former head of the Oregon Republican Party and backer of several conservative-leaning ballot measures, has returned to the public spotlight after focusing on a career in business, including as president of Grocery Outlet. Tiernan says his business and problem-solving experience translates well into skills needed to manage a sprawling state government. Like other GOP candidates, he deplores “out of control crime, lawlessness and riots,” while promising to convince local officials to be tougher on criminals, getting homeless people off the streets and improve outcomes in public schools. He lives in Lake Oswego.

Jessica Gomez, one of the first entrants into the race, is the founder and CEO of a microelectronics manufacturing company in Medford. She ran unsuccessfully for a state Senate position in 2018, but has never held elective office. Of that, she says, “My skill set is much better suited to the CEO of our state”. “My intent is not to have a political career,” Gomez adds. “My intent is to help lead our state… then I’m going to go back to my job of being a CEO.” A Latina who grew up homeless as a teenager, Gomez advocates for more sensitive rural policies, including investments in job training and reduced taxes. She is considered one of the more moderate GOP gubernatorial candidates.

Bridget Barton is running as a political “outsider” despite decades of commenting on political issues in a now-defunct newsletter. “I’ve never engaged personally in partisan politics as a politician myself,” Barton told OPB. “I’ve stayed on the thoughtful, thinking, ideas side of the divide.” Her campaign pitch is “taking the state off the cliff” by wresting control from progressive Democrats, a theme emphasized by her ‘Horse Sh%!’ TV ad. Barton, who lives in West Linn, acknowledges recovering from alcoholism, which she says gives her insight into how to overcome addiction. She criticizes Drazan for not standing up the “leftist agenda” of legislative Democrats. 

OPB said Pierce declined an interview, as did Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten and embattled former Alsea School Superintendent Marc Thielman. 

More on Carrick Flynn

Willamette Week published a story this week noting Flynn has been registered to vote in Oregon since 2004 when he turned 18, but only has voted twice in Oregon elections since 2008, a time span that included 30 separate elections.

“That means,” reported Nigel Jaquiss, “he didn’t vote in the 2012 election, when President Barack Obama faced Republican Mitt Romney; or in 2020, when Democrat Joe Biden faced then-President Donald Trump; or in any of the primary, midterm or special elections for local and state candidate races and ballot measures.”

Jaquiss included a quote from former Democratic Oregon Secretary of State Jeanne Atkins. “This voting record indicates he has not cared about either Oregon or national politics until suddenly deciding to run for Congress. If Oregon were a state – like some – that purges voter records more assiduously, he would have been struck [from the rolls] long ago.”

Voting in Oregon has attracted heightened interest after current Secretary of State Shemia Fagan disqualified the Democratic gubernatorial candidacy of Nicholas Kristof based on his voting record in New York where he worked as a newspaper columnist. Oregon’s Constitution contains a residency requirement to serve as governor. The US Constitution only requires US citizenship and age limits for House and Senate members.

Flynn’s campaign also made news when it received a sizable donation from a PAC associated with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Six of the Democratic hopefuls in the Sixth District congressional race sent a protest letter to Pelosi, saying it’s customary for official party support to go the winners of primaries, not influence a primary election outcome.

One of the most eerie aspects of Flynn’s ads is that you never hear his voice. Because his campaign isn’t paying for the TV ads, Flynn isn’t required to say he approves of the ads.