Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, has endorsed nonaffiliated candidate for governor Betsy Johnson. (Photo by Wikimedia Commons)

Outgoing U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader bucked the Democratic party again on Tuesday, announcing his endorsement of nonaffiliated gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson. 

Schrader, who was trounced in his May primary by Terrebonne attorney Jamie McLeod-Skinner, said in a statement shared by the Johnson campaign that the state’s next governor needs to work across the aisle. 

“People are concerned with the far-right and they’re exhausted with the extremism on the left,” Schrader said. “It seems the extremes on both sides just want to fight, leaving the rest of us frustrated. I believe Betsy Johnson is the leader Oregon needs to move us forward.”

Schrader is so far the only member of Oregon’s congressional delegation to back Johnson. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, all Democrats, have endorsed Democratic nominee Tina Kotek. Rep. Cliff Bentz, the only Republican in the congressional delegation, has endorsed GOP nominee Christine Drazan. 

Kotek’s communications director, Katie Wertheimer, said Schrader’s decision wasn’t surprising and noted that both Schrader and Johnson voted against gun control measures. Schrader was one of only two congressional Democrats to vote against a wide-ranging gun violence bill passed by the U.S. House last month, and Johnson consistently voted against gun regulations in the state Legislature.

“The fact is that Betsy Johnson’s votes (and Rep. Schrader’s) have been out of touch with the majority of Oregonians — especially in their shared opposition to common sense gun violence prevention bills,” she said. “So today’s news really isn’t very surprising after all.”

Schrader hinted that he would support Johnson in a post-election TV interview where he blamed his loss on redistricting, blasted Bend and Portland for being too liberal and said the “red wave” of Republican victories would start in his 5th Congressional District. McLeod-Skinner, who has built a strong base in Bend since her unsuccessful run for an eastern Oregon congressional district in 2018, won overwhelmingly in Multnomah and Deschutes counties. 

A political action committee Schrader controls gave $5,000 apiece to Democratic congressional candidates Val Hoyle and Andrea Salinas, who like McLeod-Skinner are in competitive congressional districts. But he has not supported McLeod-Skinner, though other Democrats in the state rallied around her after her primary. Political analysts consider the 5th District the most competitive in the state.

Hoyle is running against Republican Alek Skarlatos in the 4th Congressional District, which is currently held by retiring Rep. Democratic Peter DeFazio, and Salinas faces Republican Mike Erickson in the newly created 6th District race.

Johnson, a former Democratic state senator, is trying to appeal to a sense of frustration with Oregon’s liberal leadership and the brand of conservatism represented by former President Donald Trump. So far, she has raised almost $9.4 million – more than Kotek and Drazan combined – but she trailed in two publicly available polls that weren’t conducted for her campaign.

Johnson has a handful of high-profile endorsements, including from former Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, 2018 Republican nominee for governor Knute Buehler and former presidential candidate Andrew Yang. She has not yet garnered the nearly 24,000 signatures she needs to qualify for the November ballot.


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: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

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.