GOP candidates at debate
Republican candidates for governor talk during a break in a debate at the Venetian in Hillsboro on April 7. From left: Stan Pulliam, Bill Sizemore, Christine Drazan, Court Boice, Bridget Barton, Bud Pierce, Tim McCloud, Jessica Gomez and Brandon Merritt (Photo by Julia Shumway/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Few Republican candidates for Oregon governor have managed to develop significant support from voters, according to a poll conducted this week. 

A survey of likely Republican voters by Salem-based Nelson Research found that more than two out of three  are undecided with less than two weeks to go until county election offices begin mailing ballots for the May 17 primary election. Even when asked who they would lean toward voting for if they had to choose today, nearly half the respondents said they couldn’t decide. 

J.L. Wilson, the firm’s principal, told the Capital Chronicle no campaigns paid for the poll. It included only 13 of the 19 Republicans who will appear on the ballot. 

Wilson said the results show that it’s likely the winner of the GOP nomination won’t win a large share of the vote. That’s far different from races over the last decade. Dennis Richardson, who went on to serve as secretary of state, won two-thirds of the primary vote in 2014, Bud Pierce captured 48% in 2016 and Knute Buehler won the primary with 46% of votes in 2018. 

“You’ve got a lot of candidates with some built-in constituencies,” Wilson said. “It’s hard for me to see the winner getting much more than 20%. It’s gonna be closely contested between a handful of candidates and probably in the high teens.”

Pierce, a Salem physician, and Christine Drazan, the former House Republican leader from Canby, polled the best. A combined 10.7% of respondents said they would vote for Pierce or lean toward him, and 8.2% would vote for or lean toward Drazan.

Without including “leaners,” Pierce and Drazan were at 6.5% and 6.3%, respectively.

Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam also outpaced the rest of the pack, with 4.2% of respondents saying they would vote for him and another 1% saying they leaned toward him if they have to choose.

Former Oregon Republican Party chair Bob Tiernan and anti-tax activist Bill Sizemore, both of whom have been active in state politics since the ’90s and were late comers to the race, both cracked 5% if voters were told they had to choose.

The poll was conducted between Monday and Wednesday and included 520 likely Republican voters. Also on Thursday, Democratic state Treasurer Tobias Read released a poll conducted for his campaign that showed former House Speaker Tina Kotek leads him in the Democratic primary for governor with most Democrats undecided. 

“Candidates and the public at large think that people are paying attention 30 days out when in fact they are not, and that’s reflected in your high undecided numbers,” Wilson said. “People really don’t start paying attention to a primary election until a ballot is in their hands, and so it is very common to have very high undecided numbers, even 30 days out.”

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 Les Zaitz for questions: 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.