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Kotek on verge of winning Oregon governorship

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Oregon Capital Bureau

Two media organizations have called Democrat Tina Kotek the winner for Oregon governor in a close race against Republican Christine Drazan.

The Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting made the call as of noon Wednesday. Kotek had widened her lead over Drazan to 2 percentage points — 46.2% to 44.2% — when 1.5 million ballots had been tallied.

Nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, with just under 9%, conceded Tuesday night.

But Drazan’s campaign says it was not conceding yet.

“We are grateful to the many thousands of Oregonians who made their voices heard in this historic election,” her campaign said in a statement just after noon Wednesday. “We continue to monitor returns with the expectation that this race will tighten. We hope to release an additional statement later today.”

Kotek’s campaign has said nothing since her brief appearance with supporters late Tuesday night. Some national groups have congratulated her as one of two lesbians to win governorships; the other is Maura Healey in Massachusetts.

Most of the uncounted ballots were in Multnomah County, where Kotek was winning with 72%, and in Clackamas County, where Drazan was winning, but by 47% to 43% over Kotek. Kotek lives in Portland, Drazan in Canby. Clackamas County has sided with Democrats for president in recent years, but has gone for a Republican in many down-ballot races.

Oregon has 3 million registered voters. A statewide return rate of 70% or better is typical for a non-presidential election year. In 2018, it was 67.8%; in 2014, 70.9%.

Oregon’s race for governor was the nation’s first with three prominent women. There were four other states where a Democratic woman faced a Republican woman, but in three of them, the incumbent won. Arizona, which has an open seat, had not yet been called.

All were seeking to succeed Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who will have served nearly two full terms when she leaves office Jan. 9, minus the 38 days John Kitzhaber completed in his fourth term before he resigned amid an ethics scandal in February 2015.

Oregon would be only the third state where a woman has succeeded a woman as governor. The others are Arizona and New Mexico.

Democrats have been elected Oregon governor since the 1982 re-election of Republican Vic Atiyeh. That is the longest streak for either major party for that office in Oregon history. Most of those 10 previous elections were relatively close, except in 1998.

Kotek appeared poised to continue that streak, though narrowly.

Kotek, a former House speaker from Portland, won where Democrats usually win statewide these days. That area consists of Multnomah, Washington and Hood River counties, Lane and Benton counties — home to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University — and Clatsop and Lincoln counties on the coast.

Drazan, a former House minority leader from Canby, won everywhere else: Mid-Willamette Valley, Southern, Central and Eastern Oregon. (In Deschutes County, however, Drazan was running at 46.3%, Kotek at 42.5%.)

Kotek did not claim victory in a brief appearance with supporters Tuesday night:

“Every vote counts and every vote has to be counted. It looks like we might be waiting a little while before things are official — and that’s OK, because we want to make sure that every Oregonian who turned in their ballot gets heard.

“For now, I want to say thank you. This campaign was powered by hard-working people who want to build a better future for Oregon. I’m so grateful for our amazing coalition of supporters. Their dedication and hard work made all the difference in the world.”

Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic legislator from Scappoose, conceded earlier Tuesday. She drew about 9% statewide in her bid to become only the second Oregon governor not affiliated with a party. Her best showings were in the counties she represented in the Legislature — 23% in Clatsop County, 21.4% in Columbia County — but she still lost to Kotek in Clatsop County and to Drazan in Columbia County.

She told supporters gathered at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in St. Helens, in remarks reported by Portland television station KOIN, a news partner of Pamplin Media Group:

“I’ll begin by stating the obvious. It’s more fun to win than to lose, but when I decided to run for governor without any party affiliation, to run as an Oregonian, not as a D or an R, I knew the odds were very long and I didn’t care.

“Over the last 30 years, I’ve been on the ballot 16 times. My record was a perfect 16 until now and while that winning record is now broken, I have absolutely no regrets and make no apologies for joining this fight for Oregon.”

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