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Governor grudge match and congressional confusion mark day after election

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By Gary A. Warner

Oregon Capital Bureau

Wednesday dawned with Oregon politics in a bleary state after a Tuesday night filled with upsets, slam-dunks, close calls and voting breakdowns.

In spite of any primary election hangover, the state now moves on to what’s already a hyperactive and historic election in November.

“The general election starts Wednesday — full court press,” said Betsy Johnson, the former state senator mounting a bid for governor without any party affiliation, on Tuesday night.

Among the developments the morning after:

As of 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan reported 937,445 ballots had been returned of 2,948,373.

That pegs the statewide voter turnout at 31.8%, slightly above the 2018 turnout, the last non-presidential year primary election in Oregon.

A grudge match between Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan that began last year on the floor of the House over redistricting will spill over to their campaigns for governor.

Kotek vs. Drazan would ensure Oregon history: the first election for governor with women atop both party tickets. Johnson wants to make it three women.

Whatever the outcome, next January a woman will succeed a woman as governor for the first time. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, cannot run for re-election due to term limits.

A slow vote count was caused by a planned change in voting law and an unplanned backup of ballots in Clackamas County.

A new voting law allowed ballots to be counted if postmarked on or before May 17 and received by May 24.

Adding to the slow vote count were tens of thousands of ballots that couldn’t be scanned into computers in Clackamas County. Election officials had promised the glitch wouldn’t delay vote results.

Instead, Clackamas County ended the night with no voting reports at all.

“The county’s reporting delays tonight are unacceptable,” Fagan said just before midnight on Tuesday. “Voters have done their jobs, and now it’s time for Clackamas County Elections to do theirs.”

The races as they stood Wednesday afternoon:

Kotek, Drazan top 34 candidates for governor

Kotek, who stepped down as House speaker to run for governor, easily won the Democratic nomination for governor, with 56% of the vote. 

Treasurer Tobias Read conceded to Kotek late Tuesday, having received 32% of the vote. 

Christine Drazan, the former House minority leader, was leading in the Republican race with 23% of the vote. Former GOP state chair Bob Tiernan was second with 18%. 

Tiernan conceded on Wednesday, but Drazan said she would hold off declaring victory due to the stalled ballot count.

“While all signs point to a victory, we are still waiting for more ballots to be tallied and for the race to be officially called,” Drazan said. “We look forward to celebrating the final outcome soon.”

Schrader heading for defeat in 5th Congressional District

The biggest impact of the glacial pace of vote counting in Clackamas County was the crucial 5th Congressional District Democratic primary.

U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, was trailing in his re-election bid. Schrader opponents were jubilant with early returns that showed Terrebonne attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner was winning 60% of the vote.

But optimism was tempered by miniscule results from Clackamas County, which makes up 45% of Democratic registration in the district. Schrader lives in the county and the first returns from the county showed Schrader winning about 57% of the vote. If the trends continue, Schrader would close the gap with McLeod-Skinner, but is unlikely to win enough votes to stave off defeat.

The 5th district was revised under redistricting so that it now runs from Portland over the Cascades to Deschutes County. It has the smallest Democratic voter registration advantage of the six districts in Oregon.

Progressive Democrats sought to topple the seven-term congressman, who has one of the least liberal voting records in Congress.

McLeod-Skinner said late Tuesday that she supported the postmark voting and was confident that Clackamas County officials would ensure all votes were counted, even if it took longer than she and her supporters would like.

“I can wait — I have a lot of thank you notes to write,” McLeod-Skinner said.

On the Republican side, former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer is the apparent nominee, with 42% of the vote among the five GOP candidates. Bend businessman Jimmy Crumpacker was second with 30% of the vote.

Stephenson tops BOLI race, but may face Helt in run-off

The race for the non-partisan position of commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries appears headed for a run-off 

Portland labor lawyer Christina Stephenson ran up a large edge over her six rivals in the race. But with 47% of the vote, she’s falling short of the 50% required to skip a run-off in November.

If current trends hold, she would face former Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, who has 19% of the vote, in the general election.

Salinas winning primary in 6th Congressional District

Rep. Andreas Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, was leading in the Democratic race for the newly created 6th Congressional House District. It has a sizeable Democratic voter registration majority.

Salinas had just under 38% of the vote. Despite $13 million in backing from cryptocurrency interests, newcomer Carrick Flynn received just under 19% of the vote.

A top contender, Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn, conceded defeat late Tuesday.

Mike Erickson of Lake Oswego, who won Republican nominations for a different congressional seat in 2006 and 2008, was leading the GOP race in with 34% of the vote. He fueled his first bid in 14 years by loaning his own campaign $640,000.

Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, was second with just under 20% of the vote.

Wyden wins U.S. Senate race, could face Perkins

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, easily won the Democratic primary for the seat he has held since 1996. As of Wednesday afternoon, Wyden had 89% of the vote.

On the Republican side, Jo Rae Perkins of Albany was leading the GOP primary with 32% of the vote. Darin Harbrick, owner of Harbick’s Country Inn and Harbick’s Country Store in the McKenzie River Valley, was second with 30% of the vote. The slow ballot count in Clackamas County could affect the outcomes.

If Perkins wins the primary, it will be her second race for the U.S. Senate in two years. She won the Republican nomination in 2020. Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley won with 56% of the vote, while Perkins received 39%.

Perkins’ association with the QAnon conspiracy posed a problem for other Republicans running for office in 2020, with some candidates declining to appear at party events in which she took part.

Hoyle wins big in bid to succeed DeFazio in 4th Congressional District

Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle was winning 65% of the vote in the Democratic primary for the 4th Congressional District. She was endorsed by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, who announced last December that he would not seek re-election. Hoyle will face Republican Alek Skarlatos, the lone GOP candidate.

Trio of incumbents win primaries in “safe” congressional districts

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, and U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, won their party’s primaries in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd congressional districts, respectively. All three districts have prohibitively large voter majorities of the incumbent’s party.

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