Tina Kotek beat out a large Oregon Democratic gubernatorial field, and Christine Drazan is on track to win the Republican primary, setting up a fall fight for the open governorship between a pair of veterans of state politics. Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, was term-limited and could not run for reelection in a year in which her favorability rating plummeted.

Oregon, which hasn’t had a Republican governor since 1987, is a state that Republicans acknowledge to be an uphill climb for November. But they're eyeing an emerging red wave with President Joe Biden's popularity plummeting, and they hope to take advantage of voter discontent with Democrats' long dominance in Oregon politics.

The gubernatorial contest lost some of its national luster when the state’s Supreme Court decided former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof was ineligible to run because he didn’t meet the state’s residency requirements.

Kotek, who resigned as the speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives earlier this year to pursue her gubernatorial campaign, has been a mainstay in Oregon politics since 2007. She leaned into her experience on the campaign trail, touting her tenure in the House and positioning herself as the ideal candidate to lead state government starting in 2023.

Drazan was one of several candidates in the 19-member GOP primary field who distinguished herself from the rest by dint of her previous political experience. A former minority leader in Oregon’s House of Representatives, Drazan was believed to be the best candidate to earn large contributions from the Republican Governors Association. 


With 81% of the primary vote reported, Drazan had 23.8% of the vote compared to 18.7% for her closest rival, Bob Tiernan, a former state representative and one-time chairman of the Oregon Republican Party.

Drazan is a swashbuckling conservative who made a name for herself with her political gamesmanship, leading a walkout to stall a climate change initiative in 2020. Drazan also dueled with Kotek, calling for the House to censure the speaker after she broke a deal promising Republicans an equal say in the state’s congressional redistricting process.

Neil O’Brian, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oregon, told the Washington Examiner that Drazan is a strong candidate who is set to capitalize on Brown’s “nation’s least popular governor” status, giving Kotek a contest that is more competitive than casual observers are expecting.

O’Brian said he thinks Kotek is more likely to win in November, but her record as a liberal Democrat won’t necessarily be something that endears her to voters.

“Those are two established candidates that are going against each other,” O’Brian said. “And as you probably know, Kate Brown is not super popular right now, on top of Democrats nationally not being popular. So it's a good Republican candidate in what will be a strong Republican year nationally, especially in Oregon."

Betsy Johnson was a longtime Democratic senator in the Oregon Legislature who retired in 2021 after announcing her intention to run for governor as an unaffiliated candidate. Johnson, a centrist Democrat, said she didn’t want to participate in either party’s bolting to the extreme ends of the spectrum.

Judy Stiegler, a political science instructor at Oregon State University, Cascades, told the Washington Examiner that Johnson has made herself a competitive third candidate as primary voters may have failed to think about how liberal or conservative their candidates are.

Drazan has a conservative track record that includes slamming Democrats on election security without embracing former President Donald Trump’s 2020 conspiracy theories.

Running as a Republican in Oregon hasn’t been easy for the past 40 years. Despite the state having three times as many “solid Republican” counties (24) as “solid Democratic” counties (eight), the vast majority of people live in those Democratic counties, 57.4%, compared to the Republican ones, 27.9%, according to Ballotpedia. However, the county breakdowns aren’t as important in statewide races, such as the one for governor.

Republicans have received between 43% and 44% of the vote in each gubernatorial contest in the state since 2014, including in the special election Brown won in 2016 to replace disgraced Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. The contest in 2018 was reasonably close, with Brown beating out Knute Buehler 50.1% to 43.7%, a total of just 119,510 votes separating them.

In 2022, Republicans have the benefit of a formidable third-party candidate running, who some believe will take twice as many votes from Democrats as she will from Republicans, possibly making their hard 40% vote-share floor enough to push them over the line and into the governor’s mansion.


"I think the most shocking thing is that it is not out of the realm of possibilities that Oregon will have a Republican governor," O'Brian told the Washington Examiner. "I don't want to overstate that because, again, the odds are that's not going to happen. But that's the political environment we're talking about is where it's possible."

Tuesday’s results aren’t necessarily indicative of how contests will turn out in November. Since Oregon instituted its “Motor Voter” law in January 2016, the number of unaffiliated voters has continued to grow. As of March 2022, the state has more unaffiliated voters than Democrats or Republicans. However, due to Oregon’s closed primary system, those voters were locked out of the process and could not cast a ballot until the general election in November.