Image for Primary Produces Unprecedented Three-Woman Race for Governor

Three women will face off in an unprecedented race in November to become Oregon’s next governor. The contest may boil down to which candidate can make the biggest dent in the hardening disaffection of voters, which was reflected in low turnout Tuesday.

Powered by public employees, Tina Kotek easily won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination as Christine Drazan edged out Bob Tiernan and 17 other hopefuls from all wings of the Republican party. Betsy Johnson is expected to collect the required signatures to qualify as an independent candidate on the general election ballot.

Johnson launched her fall campaign today, exploiting her huge campaign war chest advantage. After outspending Kotek and Drazan in the primary, Johnson still has $5 million or more to spend. Drazan and Kotek raised similar $2.5 million amounts and spent almost all of it before Tuesday. They face the task of quickly replenishing their campaign bank accounts to compete with Johnson. 

Fifth District Congressman Kurt Schrader appears to be losing his bid for an eighth term to Democratic challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner, though delayed vote-counting in Clackamas County where Schrader lives may alter the outcome. If she prevails, McLeod-Skinner would face Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the general election.

Val Hoyle coasted to victory in the Fourth Congressional District Democratic primary and is on track to replace retiring Congressman Peter DeFazio. She will face Republican Alex Skarlatos in November.

The new Sixth Congressional District became a national spectacle when a cryptocurrency billionaire spent millions of dollars to elect political newcomer Carrick Flynn. Despite a barrage of TV ads, mail flyers and online pop-ups, Flynn was topped by Rep. Andrea Salinas. Cody Reynolds, who self-financed his campaign from his crypto earnings, came in third.

Businessman Mike Erickson, who ran an aggressive campaign, defeated the early favorite, Rep. Ron Noble, in the Sixth District Republican primary.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden turned aside minor opposition as did First District Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici and Third District Congressman Earl Blumenauer. Second District Clint Bentz easily captured his GOP primary. All are considered safe seats.

State Senate primary races in both parties were largely uncontested. In races that were contested, Republican Senator Kim Thatcher easily dispatched her primary opponent. Rep. Daniel Bonham captured 81 percent of the GOP primary in his quest to replace fellow Republican Chuck Thomsen who is retiring and endorsed him.

There also were many uncontested primaries in House races. Because most House seats lean red or blue, winning the primary is tantamount to winning the seat in the fall. Contested primaries included four-term Beaverton Democrat Ken Helm, who withstood a heated challenge and will have a strong voter edge against Republican Sandra Nelson in November. In Lake Oswego House District 38, early results indicate Daniel Nguyen may edge out Neelam Gupta to secure the Democratic candidacy for the fall. Former Republican Rep. Mark Helfrich overcame two opponents to secure his party’s nomination for November where he will face Darcy Long.

In Marion County, Salem City Councilor Tom Anderson edged out Rep. Brad Witt, who surrendered his Columbia County seat, for the Democratic nomination in House District 19. Anderson will face local businessman TJ Sullivan in November.

Political newcomer Christina Stephens, a civil rights attorney, posted a solid lead in the non-partisan Labor Commissioner primary. However, if she fails to capture 50 percent plus one, there will be a runoff in the fall. Former GOP Rep. Cheri Helt of Bend came in a distant second. 

Metro President Lynn Peterson posted a substantial lead in her re-election bid Tuesday night, but ballot-counting delays in Clackamas County could affect the outcome and might force a fall run-off with her challenger Alisa Pyszka.

Portland City Commissioner Dan Ryan breezed to re-election, while embattled Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty appears headed to a fall run-off, though her two closest challengers are in a virtual deadlock that is so close it won’t be decided until every vote is counted. Jessica Vega Pederson and Sharon Meieran also appear on track to a fall run-off for Multnomah County Chair. Chris Hoy leads Chane Griggs for Salem mayor. Griggs was endorsed by outgoing Mayor Chuck Bennett.

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton overcame a stiff challenge to win a second term. Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson beat newcomer Spencer Todd.

A printing barcode error threw a clink into election results in Clackamas County, which drew a rebuke from Secretary of State Shemia Fagan. This is also Oregon’s first election that allows mail-in ballots to count if they are postmarked no later than election day and arrive in election offices within seven days. 

Despite furious campaign spending, voter turnout seriously lagged until the final weekend when 150,000 ballots were received. Preliminary data indicates final voter turnout only reached 31 percent. Turnout in the 2018 midterm election was 34 percent.

The demographics of who actually votes in primaries is troubling. In the 2018 Oregon primary, older voters dominated while only 13 percent of eligible voters between 18-34 and 24 percent of those between 25-49 cast primary ballots. That same pattern may persist in this year’s primary, made worse by the rising number of non-affiliated voters who are unable to vote for partisan candidates.

Another concern that surfaced was the use by candidates of “red boxes” on their websites to guide so-called independent committees on what to advertise and where. The New York Times published a front page story on Monday showing how candidates flout campaign finance rules in plain sight. The article cited the Schrader campaign as an example of how the signaling process work. The article noted McLeod-Skinner also took advantage of the technique. 

Ahead of Tuesday night’s results, the Northwest Grocery Association announced it would abandon its third try to convince Oregon voters to break up the state monopoly and allow liquor sales in grocery stores.

Oregon was one of four states holding primary elections Tuesday. The Pennsylvania Senate race, which could determine which party controls the upper chamber in the next Congress, drew major headlines. Lt. Governor John Fetterman won the Democratic primary despite suffering a minor stroke days before the election. Trump-backed TV celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz held a precarious lead over hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick. The other headline involved the primary defeat of controversial GOP Congressman Madison Cawthorn in his North Carolina House district.