Democrat Tina Kotek will win the open gubernatorial race in Oregon, CNN projects, becoming one of the nation’s first out lesbian governors along with Democrat Maura Healey, who clinched the Massachusetts governorship Tuesday.
Kotek’s Republican opponent, Christine Drazan, conceded the race Friday. The contest to succeed term-limited Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in the deep-blue state turned unexpectedly difficult for Kotek after the independent candidacy of former state Sen. Betsy Johnson made for competitive three-way race.
“I want to express my deepest gratitude to all those who supported me and put their trust in our campaign. I also want to assure Oregonians that every vote will be counted and that their voices were heard in this election. Unfortunately, given what we know about the ballots outstanding, the math for a comeback simply does not add up,” Drazan said in a statement.
No one expected Oregon – a state that President Joe Biden won by 16 percentage points in 2020 – to be difficult terrain for Democrats, especially since Republicans have not won the governor’s office since 1982. But Johnson, a former Democrat, proved to be an unusually strong contender who kept pace in fundraising with her two rivals in this three-way all-women matchup with donations from business leaders, including Nike founder Phil Knight.
Brown’s unpopularity in the state combined with Johnson’s presence in the race vaulted Drazan, a former state House minority leader, into a fierce contest with Kotek, the former Democratic House speaker. Republicans comprise only about a quarter of the electorate, while Democrats make up about 34% and nonaffiliated Oregonians account for nearly 35%, according to the most recent figures from the Oregon secretary of state.
But Oregonians have been unnerved by the problems with homelessness and the rise in violent crime in Portland. The city’s downtown also still has not recovered from the impact of pandemic-era business closures and the more than 100 days of protests against police brutality – some of them violent – that followed the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020.
Drazan sought to capitalize on the disquiet about those issues, arguing that the state’s troubles stem from single-party control over about a decade that has led to a lack of accountability.
But Kotek argued that Drazan was too extreme for Oregon – highlighting her opposition to abortion rights, for example. Rather than demonstrating an ability to work with both sides, Kotek also said that Drazan demonstrated obstructionist tendencies when she led a legislative walkout in 2020 to protest a climate bill. Kotek argued that Drazan’s move effectively killed legislation that would have advanced the state’s efforts to improve homelessness, among other issues. (Drazan’s campaign said that allegation was an excuse.)
Biden campaigned for Kotek during a swing through the western states, urging voters to “stay ahead of the curve” as a progressive state by electing the former House speaker.