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Tipsheet

Gubernatorial Race Is Now a 'Toss-Up' in Oregon of All Places

AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

We've covered how Cook Political Report has handicapped some Republican chances in both specific races and in how they no longer see it as a forgone conclusion that the party will win the Senate or even House in the upcoming midterm elections. On Friday morning, however, the forecast changed for Oregon, a bright blue state, in that the gubernatorial race there is now considered a "Toss-Up" as opposed to "Lean Democratic." 

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"No race for governor has been more surprising than Oregon, which we last shifted into the competitive column at the end of July, moving it from Likely to Lean Democrat. Now, we are changing our race rating once again into the Toss Up column," Jessica Taylor wrote in her post for the site. 

The race, is not just between Republican Christine Drazan and Democrat Tina Kotek, but also Independent Betsy Johnson, formally a Democrat. Taylor emphasizes Johnson's role in the race throughout her post, noting she "threatens to act as a spoiler."

While Oregon hasn't elected a Republican governor since 1982, there are a few factors as to why this may be the year one can pull it off.

The issue of homelessness is mentioned by Taylor:

Portland’s homeless crisis is also a driving force in the race, if not the top issue. Each candidate has addressed it in paid media, while both Johnson and Drazan have blamed Brown, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, and — by extension — Democrats and Kotek. Johnson’s ads have argued she would take ideas from both sides to help solve the tent cities and growing crime, while Drazan has pointed to decriminalizing methamphetamines and heroin as one of the reasons the crisis has ballooned, and she’s emphasized her endorsements from law enforcement groups. Kotek has said she would expand drug treatment programs along with more shelters and affordable housing; she also points to her past work in the nonprofit sector and with local food banks.

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Sarah highlighted last month how, due to the homeless crisis, the Portland population level has dropped by over 11,000 residents in July 2021 than it did the previous year, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

Then there's Gov. Kate Brown's particularly low approval ratings. According to data from Morning Consult released in July, Brown, the state's Democratic governor, is second to last most popular governor in the country. Just 40 percent approve of her performance, while 55 percent disapprove, a number which also makes her the most unpopular governor.

Drazan has mentioned Brown in her ads, as the post mentions. " In one ad, Drazan tries to tie both “Tina and Betsy” to the incumbent, branding them part of “Kate’s squad.” She paints them as career politicians for serving 15 and 21 years in the legislature, respectively. Drazan served three years in the state House before resigning in January to run for governor," Taylor explains. 

While this race change was just announced, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) has been reading the writing on the wall for some time now. Back in July they decided to include Oregon as one of their "Opportunities to Flip Chambers." This came after a poll earlier that month showed Republicans leading on the state legislative generic ballot by 4 percent, at 47-43 percent. Further, Democrats in the state legislature weree also particularly underwater, by 39-52 percent.

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In a statement for Townhall, RSLC Spokesman Zach Kraft pointed out how "Oregonians are frustrated with the failures of Democrat-controlled Salem and are yearning for change," adding that "Democrats' radical policies have created a major crime wave, skyrocketed the cost of living, and allowed homelessness and drug abuse to takeover parks and community areas. Republicans have the energy and momentum on their side as they work to end a decade of disastrous Democrat control and take Oregon in a positive new direction."

Sabato's Crystal Ball has also changed its ratings to regard this race as a "Toss-Up." 

It's not just the state races that no longer favor Democrats, though. Oregon's 5th Congressional District, between Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer is considered a "Toss-Up," by Cook Political Report, in addition to Sabato's Crystal Ball. Decision Desk HQ, which also considers the race to be a "Toss-Up," gives Chavez-DeRemer a 58.1 percent chance of winning. The seat is currently held by Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat who lost his primary to McLeod-Skinner by double digits, despite being endorsed by President Joe Biden. 

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