Former House Speaker Tina Kotek won the Oregon Democratic primary for governor Tuesday night by a large margin.
Preliminary returns at 9 p.m. showed Kotek with 55% of the vote and Read with 33%.
Clackamas County, one of the largest counties by Democratic voter population, had only tabulated a small portion of Democratic ballots by 9 p.m.
Ballots that reached drop boxes or county election offices on Tuesday or were mailed with postmarks on Election Day have yet to be counted and could change the final outcome. A printing error that went undetected by Clackamas County election officials and requires hand-duplication of most of that county’s votes further muddies results as of Tuesday evening.
OREGON PRIMARY 2022: Live Results Page | Election page
Kotek outraised and outspent Read, pouring $2.5 million into winning over voters compared with Read’s total spending of $1.9 million. Read had the backing of former Gov. Barbara Roberts and former businessman Bill Bloomfield, a Californian who has supported everything from open primaries and gun safety measures to restrictions on union political spending. But Kotek brought to the race key backing from two of the state’s most powerful public employee unions and other left-leaning political groups with experience turning out voters to support their choice candidates.
Aside from former New York Times columnist Nick Kristof’s brief and unsuccessful attempt to get on the ballot, the Democratic primary was a relatively tame and unsurprising contest between two longtime Oregon politicians who both started their careers in state politics at the same time, after being elected to the Legislature in 2006. That was despite an open race for governor this year because terms limits prevented Gov. Kate Brown from seeking reelection.
Liz Kaufman, a recently retired political consultant who directed campaigns for former state Treasurer Randall Edwards and former Portland Mayor Charlie Hales, said it was “stunning” that more high-profile Democrats did not enter the race.
“More people were thinking about it at the beginning and they were just quietly convinced not to do it,” Kaufman said, noting that Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum was among the Democrats who considered running. Kotek announced she was running for governor in September, which signaled to other Democrats that it could be tougher to run given Kotek’s strong connections with some interest groups, Kaufman said.
“If (Kotek) hadn’t gotten in, I think more other people would have gotten in, especially after Kristof tanked,” Kaufman said.
Read and Kotek largely focused on their leadership qualifications, how they would get a handle on homelessness and out-of-control housing prices and their support for public safety staffing. All of those are top concerns for voters this year, according to pollsters. Kotek, who has focused for years as a legislative leader on increasing affordable housing, called the state’s failure to help thousands of people experiencing homelessness “unacceptable.” Kotek and Read both said that achieving adequate police staffing levels needs to be a key part of how the state responds to record numbers of shootings and homicides.
Read, who served for years in the Oregon Legislature before being elected state Treasurer in 2016, focused on differentiating himself from Kotek based on his executive experience. He critiqued Kotek in a televised debate for not taking responsibility for the eight-month delay in the launch of the state’s paid family and medical leave program, a delay that Kotek incorrectly attributed solely to the pandemic.
Still, Kotek had a long track record of passing progressive policy priorities that resonated with Democratic primary voters, including raising Oregon’s minimum wage and enacting a new business tax to raise around $1 billion annually to boost school spending. And in an appeal to voters dissatisfied with Oregon’s political leaders, Kotek kicked the campaign season off earlier this year with an ad touting her toughness.
Kotek is expected to face not only the Republican nominee but also unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson in the November general election in what will be an uncommonly competitive three-way race.
— Hillary Borrud