Democrat Tina Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson participate in a debate Oct. 6 in Medford. A month away from Election Day, Drazan appears to have a slight lead in a close race with Kotek. (Image via screenshot)

Candidates are bringing big-name guests, cashing checks and boasting about polls and endorsements as the most expensive race for governor in Oregon’s history enters its final month. 

President Joe Biden is headed to Portland, where he’ll participate in an event with “grassroots Democrats” on Friday and headline a reception for Democratic nominee Tina Kotek on Saturday, according to the White House. And on Tuesday, Republican Christine Drazan is bringing Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor of Virginia who she hopes to emulate in flipping a blue state, to campaign for her in Aurora. 

On Wednesday, county election officials will begin mailing ballots to the nearly 3 million Oregonians registered to vote. The following day, Kotek, Drazan and nonaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson will meet in one final debate hosted by KGW and The Oregonian/OregonLive to make their cases 

The three candidates had raised nearly $50 million for their campaigns by Thursday afternoon, with tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars flowing into the race on a near-daily basis. National groups aligned with Democratic and Republican governors, labor unions and Oregon billionaire Phil Knight, who recently switched from supporting Johnson to Drazan, are responsible for the largest contributions. 

Well-regarded election forecasting website FiveThirtyEight has consistently given Johnson 0- or  1-in-100 odds of winning the election. In a media briefing this week, Kotek allies including An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, warned that Johnson was a “spoiler” candidate. 

“Betsy Johnson cannot win this election,” Do said. “A vote for Betsy Johnson is a vote for an anti-choice Republican.” 

A memo released by Kotek’s campaign manager, Meghan Cavanaugh, referred to a “very real threat of a red wave in Oregon.” The Kotek campaign is counting on voters to choose Kotek because of her support for abortion rights, background checks before gun purchases and funding to address homelessness. Oregonians have indicated in surveys that a majority of voters support abortion rights and background checks for gun sales, while they repeatedly have ranked homelessness as a top priority. 

Meanwhile, a new poll released Wednesday evening showed a reason for Drazan to celebrate. Clout Research, a GOP-affiliated firm based in Ohio, found from a phone survey of 842 likely voters on Oct. 8 and 9 that Drazan led Kotek, 43.8% to 38.4%. Johnson’s support in the poll had slipped to 11%.  The poll had a margin of error of 3.38 points. 

Clout Research has run three polls in the Oregon governor’s race. Its August effort, showing Drazan leading with 33%, compared to 32% for Kotek and 21% for Johnson, was on par with polls conducted by other firms between June and September.

Surveys from nonpartisan pollsters at Emerson College and Portland-based DHM research and Republican firms Cygnal and Nelson Research all showed Kotek and Drazan in a statistical tie, with Drazan leading by a point or two. One June poll Johnson purchased from GS Strategy Group showed her slightly trailing Kotek, with Drazan as a distant third.

In both September and October, however, Clout Research broke away from the pack and began forecasting larger leads for Drazan. Its survey of 422 voters between Sept. 23 and 26 found Drazan leading Kotek 39% to 35%. A question about a hypothetical choice between the two without Johnson in the race resulted in 53% of respondents saying they’d vote for Drazan. And the most recent October poll showed a nearly 6-point split between Drazan and Kotek. 

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.