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Historic Oregon election topped by tight governor’s race

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Tuesday 11:46 pm

By GARY A. WARNER
Oregon Capital Bureau

The results of a major Republican push to alter the Democratic dominance of Oregon politics was taking shape Tuesday evening, but most results were too close to call.

Kotek and Drazan were separated by less than a percentage point with 42% of ballots — just over 1.26 million — counted just after 10:15 p.m. Preliminary returns showed Kotek leading 45.4% to 44.8 for Drazan.

Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson was a distant third and conceded just before 9 p.m. from her campaign night event in St. Helens.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, was winning 55% to 42% against Republican Joe Rae Perkins. 

In the closely-watched 5th Congressional District, Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer was leading Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner by 52% to 47%.

McLeod-Skinner was winning in Clackamas County, Chavez-DeRemer’s home turf, as well as Deschutes and Multnomah County. But Chavez-DeRemer was racking up big margins in conservative-leaning Linn and Marion counties. 

Portland attorney Christina Stephenson was well ahead in early voting for the Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries. She leads former Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, 61% to 39%.

Results for two other open congressional seats — the 4th district that includes Eugene and Roseburg, and the 6th district around Salem — were too close to call, but Democrats led in both. 

The result could determine if Democrats will lose the governor’s office for the first time this century and if U.S. House races will help or stem the GOP drive to return to the majority for the first time since 2018.

Republicans and allies spent heavily to shake-up the Democratic supermajorities in the Legislature. The main target has been the Senate, where Democrats hold 18 of 30 seats. 

In early returns, results were mixed. Rep. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook, was heading toward a possible flip of Senate District 16, formerly represented by Johnson.

Democrats were holding on in several districts targeted by Republicans and Rep. Michael Meek, D-Oregon City, held a 1% lead over  incumbent Sen. Bill Kennemer, a Republican, in the 20th district.

Republicans in Oregon have been seeking to leverage public opinion polling showing residents are unhappy with the direction of the state and Gov. Kate Brown as the least popular state chief executives in the nation. Brown was barred by term limits from running again.

Democrats have a “triad” in Oregon — control over the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.

Voters have elected Democrats to all statewide offices — governor, treasurer, secretary of state, and attorney general.

Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, while officially elected in a non-partisan race, was a former Democratic state lawmaker. She opted to run for the 4th Congressional District seat and was leading Republican Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg. 

Democrats hold three-fifths supermajorities in the Oregon House and Oregon Senate which allows them to pass laws, including taxes, without Republican votes.

Democrats also hold both U.S. Senate seats and four of five current members of the U.S. House are Democrats. The state’s new sixth district was drawn during redistricting for the 2022 election and has a Democratic tilt.

But the retirement of U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, in the 4th district and McLeod-Skinner’s upset win over U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, in the May Democratic primary for the 5th district has opened the door for expensive and competitive races.

Drazan and other Republicans have pointed to one party rule in Oregon as the root cause of a long list of ills – homelessness, inflation, affordable housing, the COVID-19 pandemic response, crime, growing wildfire risk, high gas prices, and low high school test scores.

New York Magazine, one of several national publications to parachute into the state to record the possible seismic political shift, concluded that Democrats’ longevity in power was their weak point.

“Kotek’s main problem may be the sour mood of Oregon voters who are susceptible to arguments from both of her challengers that it’s time for a change in Salem,” the magazine wrote last month.

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