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Oregon candidates for governor enter final stretch of campaign

From left: Republican candidate Christine Drazan, Democrat-turned-independent candidate Betsy Johnson and Democratic candidate Tina Kotek are all vying for the Oregon governor's office.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
From left: Republican candidate Christine Drazan, Democrat-turned-independent candidate Betsy Johnson and Democratic candidate Tina Kotek are all vying for the Oregon governor's office.

Voters should expect one last wave of messaging in the most expensive governor’s race in state history.

For the three former state lawmakers campaigning to be Oregon’s next governor, the final stretch before Election Day looked a lot like the rest of their campaigns: Republican Christine Drazan highlighted public safety concerns. Democrat Tina Kotek reminded voters of her record as a reproductive-rights champion. Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat running as an unaffiliated candidate, promised to be the best of both parties.

The campaign talking points voters are seeing on television, hearing on the radio and getting in the mail aren’t the only signal the race isn’t over until Nov. 8. The money also continues to roll in. Last week, Drazan reported another $1.25 milliondonation from the Republican Governors Association and Kotek received a $250,000 boost from the Democratic Governors Association. This is already the costliest governor’s race in state history, topping $60 million.

The race has also gained national attention. Republicans are hoping to capture the governor’s office for the first time in 40 years. Polling has repeatedly shown Drazan and Kotek nearly deadlocked, with Johnson trailing and possibly siphoning votes from Kotek.

By now, most political watchers are familiar with the candidates’ talking points. Drazan continues to hammer the idea that one-party rule has ruined the state. This week, the former House Republican Leader met with two victims of Richard Gillmore, known as the “jogger rapist,” who attacked nine people in the 1970s and ‘80s in Portland and is scheduled to be released in mid-December.

“We cannot look at an issue like Richard Gillmore and not recognize it is one example of the challenges and the issues and the failings that Oregonians are experiencing every single day under our current leadership,” Drazan said.

Drazan’s latest sentiment echoed perhaps her most common campaign refrain, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago? … If the answer is no, then the answer is change.”

Over the campaign’s last weekend, Kotek canvassed the Portland area with activist Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood and daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. Kotek has hit the issue of abortion hard in speeches and advertisements to highlight Drazan’s anti-abortion views.

Democrats nationally had hoped the debate over abortion rights would mobilize their supporters in the first major election since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. But polls in Oregon have repeatedly shown that voters remain the most concerned about homelessness and inflation.

More recently in the campaign, Kotek had been more pointed in her criticism of incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, who polls have shown to be very unpopular.

“On day one, I will do what Kate Brown wouldn’t. I will get people the help they need to move off the streets,” Kotek said in an advertisement released in mid-October.

And Johnson, who has been trailing the other two candidates, continued to pledge she would unite Oregonians under her leadership and worked to fend off the notion that she would drop out of the race before the ballots were counted.

“When I began this campaign, I knew taking on the two-party machine would be tough. I didn’t care. I refused to give up on the state I love without one hell of a fight,” she said in an email sent to supporters last week.

Johnson spent the campaign’s final full week flying around the state talking to voters.

This is the first general election in which Oregon ballots that are postmarked by Election Day count. The postmark rule could mean that the winner of a close race, such as the one for governor, is less likely to be determined the night of the election.

The Oregon Secretary of State will post the initial results around 8 p.m. on Tuesday and will continue to tally ballots until Nov. 16. The state’s deadline to certify the election results and ballots is Dec. 16.

Lauren Dake is a political reporter and producer for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Before OPB, Lauren spent nearly a decade working as a print reporter. She’s covered politics and rural issues in Oregon and Washington.