AURORA, Ore.—In a spirited Tuesday night speech, Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R., Va.) urged voters to follow in Virginia's footsteps and elect a Republican governor, calling on Oregonians to put an end to destructive Democratic policies that have escalated crime.
At a packed event for GOP gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan, Youngkin slammed Democrats in Virginia and Oregon for their efforts to "demean and defund law enforcement," which he said have caused crime to spike. Youngkin criticized Drazan's opponent, Democrat Tina Kotek, and warned the crowd that the "Kotek-Biden agenda" led to the legalization of drugs that have taken over Oregon's communities.
"They are agents of chaos. They're not trying to solve your problems—they're trying to stay in power," Youngkin told the crowd of more than 2,000 voters. "It's your moment to take back your state, take back your schools, take back your cities, take back your law enforcement, and to make a statement that just like in Virginia will be heard around the world."
The last five polls in the governor's race have Drazan ahead of Kotek, with the most recent showing a 5-point lead.
The speech drew a sharp contrast with remarks President Joe Biden delivered last weekend in Portland on behalf of Kotek, in which he said Oregon was on "the forefront of change—positive change." Voters who spoke with the Washington Free Beacon at Drazan's event said rising crime, rampant drug abuse, and a homelessness crisis have convinced them otherwise.
"We're going backwards," said Cheryl Seratt, who lives in Milwaukie. "My neighbors don't care for it even though they're pretty liberal."
Seratt said she and her husband used to shop and dine in downtown Portland, but they stopped going years ago. "It's not safe. It's trashed," she said. State Democrats "are trying to cut down on cigarette smokers and vaping, but won't go after the harder drugs."
Her husband, a former construction worker, said he used to find people dead from drug overdoses underneath his tarps at building sites.
Drug overdose deaths more than doubled in Oregon between 2019 and 2021, spurred by the proliferation of fentanyl. Kotek voted for a sweeping drug decriminalization bill, which outgoing Democratic governor Kate Brown signed last year.
"I'm hoping Drazan can salvage what Brown has ruined," said Andy Holthouse, a retiree from Oregon City, who called the Democrats' decision to decriminalize all drugs in small amounts a "joke."
"If you have personal amounts of heroin, fentanyl—the worst drugs in the world … it's a $100 ticket, and they don't pay it. … It's a joke," he said.
Stan Pulliam, the Republican mayor of Sandy, said Democratic rule has made Portland "dramatically different" from what it was a few years ago.
"We were on the cusp of becoming a world-class destination city," Pulliam said. "People were going there for the best wine, and distilleries, and craft breweries on the planet. Just a couple years later, you got mass homelessness, crime, graffiti, and boarded-up storefronts."
Drazan has pledged to declare a state of emergency to deal with the homelessness crisis. Speaking at the event, she pledged to introduce a ballot measure to give voters the option of reversing drug decriminalization.
"We're going to show compassion, we're going to offer services—and then we're going to hold people accountable," Drazan said. "We're going to restore community safety. We're going to restore our downtowns."
Youngkin also touched on education issues, a tentpole of his agenda and a major topic in the Oregon race. Drazan has attacked Kotek for supporting school closures during the coronavirus pandemic, which she says were "directly responsible" for students' learning loss.
Just 39 percent of students were proficient in reading and writing in spring 2022, the Oregon Department of Education announced in September. Only 28 percent were proficient in math.
"Republicans in the state have an unprecedented opportunity," Pulliam said. "Voters in Oregon care heavily about what goes on in schools."
Drazan's common-sense approach to pressing economic issues has even attracted former Democrats, such as Milwaukie resident Erin Smith.
"I grew up here, raised my son here, and the cost of living is so astronomical," Smith said. "The pace of salary doesn't keep up. And now with all the inflation and food costs, I don't know how people can do it."
As Oregon House minority leader, Drazan in 2020 led Republican lawmakers in a walkout to deny Democrats the quorum they needed to ram through legislation that would have hiked gas prices. Smith was impressed.
"She's strong; she's not a wimp," Smith said of Drazan. "I'm hopeful that she won't back down."