Oregon voters could be ready to elect their first Republican governor since the 1980s, according to a poll released this week.
Thirty-two percent of Oregon voters say they would vote for Republican candidate Christine Drazan, according to an independent poll published by the Oregonian on Wednesday. Democratic candidate Tina Kotek is neck and neck with Drazan at 31 percent—the second time this year a poll has shown Kotek trailing behind. Independent candidate Betsy Johnson sits at 18 percent.
If she wins, Drazan would be the first Republican governor elected in Oregon since 1982, when GOP incumbent Victor Atiyeh won reelection.
The news comes as Democrats mount a massive campaign to keep Oregon blue. The Democratic Governors Association this year has donated more than $3 million to Kotek, including $1.25 million in September. The Cook Political Report and the University of Virginia's Center for Politics have both moved the race to a "tossup" since August.
The election has become a referendum on the liberal state's approach to rising violent crime and rampant drug use. Portland, Oregon's largest city, saw the most homicides in its history last year. Nearly 90 percent of voters say the quality of life has worsened in the city, according to a February poll, and a quarter say crime is Portland's biggest problem.
Kotek has largely embraced the permissive approach toward crime and drugs of outgoing Gov. Kate Brown (D.). As House speaker in 2020, she sided with rioters who destroyed local businesses and attacked police during summer protests.
During a debate Tuesday night, Kotek defended Measure 110, a 2020 ballot measure that decriminalized all drugs in small amounts. The law "may be imperfect," Kotek said, but "that doesn't mean we throw the whole thing out." Drazan and Johnson committed to repealing the measure, though Johnson voted for it as a Democratic state senator in June 2021.
The candidates also discussed gun control and abortion, with Kotek criticizing Drazan for the Republican's pro-life stance. Drazan said Oregon's abortion laws were "among the most extreme in the nation" and that Kotek and Johnson were using the issue "to distract from their failed records."
"This is the definition of Tina Kotek's approach to the governor's office," Drazan said at the debate. "Don't change course. Don't change direction. Keep doing more of the same. Oregonians need change."
Kotek's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.