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Is Oregon Destined to Go Republican?

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden. Image Credit: White House Facebook.

Oregon, where I happen to reside, has been a “true-blue” state for decades. Oregonians have elected a Democratic governor for forty years straight; no statewide office has gone to a Republican in twenty years. But the Pacific Northwest state’s political landscape is changing, as a Biden trip scheduled for this weekend demonstrates.  

“It’s perhaps the most precious campaign resource in all of American politics – a presidential fundraising visit,” POLITICO wrote. “So why, with less than four weeks till Election Day, is Joe Biden pointing Air Force One at Oregon this weekend?”

Well, Oregon, for the first time in a generation, is in play for Republicans – making Biden’s visit a worthwhile expenditure of a “precious campaign resource.” 

Oregon political experts, speaking with POLITICO, “noted that while their state has a true-blue reputation, its gubernatorial races have stayed relatively close in recent cycles. And this year, there’s a wild card: Independent candidate Betsy Johnson, a moderate former Democratic state legislator, is pulling support from Democratic nominee Tina Kotek, giving Republican nominee Christine Drazan a credible chance of victory.”

Johnson and Drazan are running similar campaigns; each has made crime and homelessness foundational issues. Full disclosure: I work in crime-related matters for an elected official in Oregon. I can attest that crime and homelessness deserve serious attention and significant resource allocation, at the state level. Oregon voters appear to share similar sentiments, which is why Johnson and Drazan are gaining traction. Oregon voters also appear receptive to Johnson and Drazan’s greater messaging. Johnson, for her part, is marketing herself as a politician “loyal only to the people of Oregon.” Meanwhile, Drazan has denounced COVID lockdowns and climate laws that raise energy prices. 

Enter Joe Biden. “Biden’s visit to Portland Friday and Saturday appears primarily aimed at bucking up support for Kotek among Democrats, a sizable chunk of whom appear to be considering a vote for Johnson,” POLITICO reported

The premise of Kotek losing the race has advocates speaking openly. An Do, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon, said that “a vote for Johnson is a vote for an anti-choice Republican.” 

“But the Democratic anxieties only begin with the governor’s race,” POLITICO reported. “They might be exceeded by fears that Republicans could pick up as many as three Dem-held House seats in the state.”

The reasons? First, the national landscape is difficult for Democrats, which will reflect itself at the state level, including in Oregon. Second, Democrats lack incumbents in key races. Third, voters are increasingly concerned about crime and homelessness, issues that most voters trust Republicans to handle more effectively than Democrats. Fourth, Republicans have been successful in downplaying their more controversial positions. 

Accordingly, multiple House races have grown tighter in Oregon. In the 4th Congressional District Republican Alex Skarlatos is going up against Democrat Val Hoyle to take over retiring Peter DeFazio’s seat. In the 5th District, seven-term moderate Kurt Schrader was ousted for (fellow UO law alum) Jamie McLeod-Skinner. The Democratic in-fighting has allowed Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer to gain momentum. And in the newly drawn 6th District, Democrat Andrea Salinas and Republican Mike Erickson are competing for a seat that Biden dominated in 2020. Yet, Erickson has spent over $1 million of his own money to make the race competitive. 

“Oregon is going to be a battleground state this cycle for a whole host of reasons,” an Oregon Democratic strategist told POLITICO. “And it’s definitely not a role that Oregon is used to filling.”

Biden, who arrives in Portland Friday, hopes to put his thumb on the scale. On Friday, he will “participate in a grassroots volunteer event with the Oregon Democrats.” On Saturday, he will “participate in a reception for Tina Kotek in Portland” before delivering a speech “on lowering costs for American families.” 

We’ll see if Biden’s presence has the desired effect.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.

Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.