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Ready, set, go: Less than 100 days until election

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Oregon Capital Bureau

It’s easy to feel like the November election is a long way off.

Primary election ballots were still being counted just 10 weeks ago.

It’s been just a month since the Fourth of July.

One of the main “candidates” for governor hasn’t qualified to run and likely won’t hit that mark until the end of August.

Summer, the old and increasingly irrelevant conventional wisdom says, is a time of political doldrums. Labor Day, the traditional “kick-off” of the general election campaign, is still a month away.

But political tradition hasn’t held up in recent election cycles and has been largely kicked to the curb in 2022. There will be a new governor, at least three new members of Congress, and a host of new legislators representing new districts. Also on the ballot are measures on gun control and barring recalcitrant lawmakers from running for office if they walk off the job too often.

One look at the calendar shows the climax of the 2022 election is rapidly approaching. As of Sunday, there were 100 days until the Nov. 8 general election.

The primary culled and cleared the political field.

The May 17 ballot featured 346 candidates: 146 Republicans, 134 Democrats and 97 running for officially non-partisan offices.

The effect of voting was dramatic.

May 17 began with 34 candidates for governor, 10 for U.S. Senator, 16 for the new 6th Congressional District, and 10 for U.S. Senator, seven for the Bureau of Labor and Industries commissioner.

When the final votes were tallied over a week later, each race had two finalists.

The primary notched its first major casualty of 2022 when U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby, was upset by progressive Terrebonne attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner in his bid for an eighth term representing the 5th Congressional District.

The outcome of the May 17 vote also put two bitter rivals from the House on a collision course in the race for governor.

With Gov. Kate Brown barred from running again due to term limits, Democrats chose former House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, as their nominee. Former House Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, topped the GOP primary field.

Kotek and Drazan had both resigned from the House early to run for governor. Along with inflation, COVID-19, abortion, guns, housing and homeless policies, their campaigns would be framed by a personal animosity born from a 2021 fight over a broken bargain on political redistricting.

“She lied and broke her promise not just to us but to Oregonians,” Drazan said Sept. 21. “She just sold the soul of our state for Democrats’ political gain.”

In most years, that would be enough drama by itself. But last week the first major debate of the governor’s race was held at a newspaper publishers’ convention in Clackamas County. Sharing the stage with Kotek and Drazan was a third candidate for governor who has raised the largest campaign war chest, but hasn’t appeared on a ballot or even qualified to run for the office.

Former Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, dropped out of the Senate and the Democratic Party in a bid to become just the second governor since Oregon became a state in 1859 to win the governorship without a major party affiliation.

Johnson has a solidly bifurcated political pedigree.

Born in Bend and raised in Redmond, she was the daughter of timberman and philanthropist Sam Johnson, who served as a Republican in the Legislature and as mayor of Redmond. His daughter moved to his left, both on the map and on the political spectrum. She made her name in the aviation business on the Oregon Coast and her own long career in Salem was as a Democrat.

Johnson is seeking to cast herself as the middle lane between a far-left Kotek and a far-right Drazan.

“I am pro-choice,” Johnson wrote on Twitter earlier this year. “This is a bedrock issue for me, and frankly, for Oregon.” Last week, she said Drazan, the only anti-abortion candidate among the trio, would veto “pro-choice policies.”

Kotek would push liberal social agendas and increase government spending, and taxes, Johnson asserts.

“She’d have us all woke and broke,” Johnson said.

Kotek has countered that Johnson and Drazan have spent much of their political careers emphasizing what they were against, while she had done the difficult work of moving bills through the Legislature.

“Being able to deliver results right now is what really matters for Oregonians,” Kotek said.

On a practical level, Johnson has until Aug. 16 to submit 23,744 valid signatures to the secretary of state’s office in order to secure her place on the Nov. 8 ballot. Her official campaign committee name, “Run, Betsy, Run” reflects the need to first get to the starting line. Only then can she try to be first across the finish line.

“Betsy Johnson’s August 16 deadline guarantees that the Elections Division will have 10 business days to verify the signatures before the statutory deadline to qualify, which is August 30,” said Ben Morris, communications director for the secretary of state’s office. “We will know for sure by August 30, possibly sooner if they submit early.”

In order to ensure that petitions can survive having invalid signatures thrown out, the political rule of thumb in Oregon has been to submit at least 50% more than required. For Johnson, that would mean at least 35,616.

While declining to say how many signatures have been gathered and when they will be turned in, Johnson campaign spokesperson Jennifer Sitton has said the campaign expects to be well past the threshold well before the deadline.


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