SALEM, Ore.—After nearly four decades of Democratic control, voters in Oregon are ready for a change of leadership.
"I don’t like the Democratic approach to anything that’s happening," said Terri, who lives with her husband outside of Salem and dropped her party affiliation two years ago. "I used to be a Democrat for 40 years."
Like many voters who spoke with the Washington Free Beacon, Terri is fed up with President Joe Biden and Oregon governor Kate Brown (D.). She said both have attempted to woo progressives with policies that undermine public safety and contribute to record inflation.
"I want law and order. I want people who have committed crimes to be prosecuted," she said before gesturing to her liberal friend seated next to her. "We want help for those who need it—not help for everybody, like this administration is doing, just handing out money willy-nilly." Her friend agreed.
That dissatisfaction is threatening Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek’s chances in Oregon, where voters rank crime and the economy as top concerns. Even after Biden visited the state to stump for Kotek, the Democrat trails her Republican opponent Christine Drazan in recent polls. Statewide surveys also show a majority of Oregonians have an unfavorable view of both Biden and Kotek.
"Kotek is Brown," Terri said, a remark similar to others the Free Beacon has heard while visiting the state. Kotek has sought to distance herself from the least popular governor in America. She criticized Brown in interviews this year but accepted Brown’s endorsement.
Residents’ talk often centers on Portland, where Kotek lives and which has long been a hotbed of far-left activism in Oregon. Anti-police protests inspired by the killing of George Floyd gripped the city for over 100 days in 2020, with rioters damaging businesses and clashing violently against federal and local law enforcement. Data for Progress, a left-wing think tank, found two years later that 62 percent of voters want to see more police in their communities.
"When I drive through Portland, I’m scared. I didn’t used to be scared, but I’m scared," Chris, who volunteers for a nonprofit that helps the homeless, told the Free Beacon. "The police are understaffed and underappreciated."
Sixty percent of Oregon voters want police to step up enforcement against quality-of-life offenses such as public urination and homeless encampments, the Data for Progress survey found.
Drazan and unaffiliated gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson have criticized Kotek for siding with Portland rioters who attacked a police station during the 2020 protests. Kotek said in a recent debate she has "always supported" police but wants them to be held "accountable."
The October Data for Progress poll revealed 52 percent of Oregon voters now trust Republicans to handle crime better than Democrats. Forty-eight percent favor Republicans to restore the economy.
As with crime, Kotek’s economic policies could hurt her at the polls. In 2017, she voted for one of the largest tax hikes in Oregon’s history. Two years later, Kotek supported a statewide rent control bill. At the time, critics said the plan would lead to a housing shortage. Today, voters say it’s driven up the cost of living.
"Most apartment complexes want three times your monthly income as a deposit," Chris told the Free Beacon.
Oregon voters’ economic concerns have helped boost Johnson, who supports the growth of corporations in the state. Combined with her pro-choice stance, her pledge to help Oregon’s economy has made Johnson appealing to self-described liberal voters like Sam, a paralegal who told the Free Beacon she and her friends will support Johnson over Kotek.
Johnson has cost Kotek significant endorsements and campaign contributions. Nike co-founder Phil Knight has donated millions to Drazan’s and Johnson’s campaigns in recent months, telling the New York Times in October he was an "anti-Tina person."
In an effort to win back support, Kotek has tried to distance herself from her progressive past. But the tactic hasn’t fooled those who spoke with the Free Beacon. When asked where to find Kotek supporters, they pointed to "the vegan restaurants in Salem."