Democrat Tina Kotek, former longtime speaker of the Oregon House, was elected state governor in a tight three-way race, The Associated Press projected Thursday evening. The Oregonian called the race for Kotek on Wednesday morning.
Kotek defeated Republican Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson, a Democrat-turned-independent who campaigned as a centrist, in what was widely seen as the GOP's best shot at winning the Oregon governor's seat for the first time in four decades.
Kotek had a lead of 54,8000 votes or 3.5 percentage points, 47 percent to Drazan's 43.5 percent, as of Thursday afternoon, with more than 80 percent of votes counted, The Oregonian reports. Drazen, a former state House minority leader, has not yet conceded. "We continue to exercise patience as we await additional clarity regarding the final outcome of this race," her campaign said Thursday afternoon. Johnson, a former state senator, conceded Tuesday night.
Republican hopes had been bolstered by the expectations of a national "red wave," discontent over homelessness and crime in Portland, and Johnson's role as a potential spoiler in the race. Their hopes were also well-funded. Nike co-founder Phil Knight poured at least $5.25 million into the governor's race, first for Johnson and then for Drazen, and donated another $2 million to the GOP's effort to flip the state legislature.
Republicans did pick up a few seats in the Oregon House and Senate, enough to end the Democrats' three-fifth supermajority in at least the Senate, OPB reports. But voters also took away one of the Oregon GOP's negotiating chips by making it more painful for lawmakers to walk out of the Capitol to deny Democrats a two-thirds quorum. Under newly-passed Measure 113, any state lawmaker with 10 or more unexcused absences will be blocked from running for re-election or a seat in the other chamber.
Kotek, 56, and Massachusetts Governor-elect Maura Healy (D) made history Tuesday as the first two openly lesbian governors elected in the U.S. Kotek replaces term-limited Gov. Kate Brown (D), the country's first openly bisexual governor. The first openly gay governor, Jared Polis of Colorado, was also re-elected Tuesday.