Former Oregon House Minority Leader Christine Drazan on Thursday signaled optimism she can unite a fractured Republican electorate as she prepares for a competitive three-way race for governor this year.
This week, Drazan triumphed over an uncommonly large 19-candidate field with an uncommonly low share of the vote. As of the latest tally, she’d won less than a quarter of GOP ballots cast, 23%.
Six other candidates in the race claimed 7% or more of the votes, with the runner-up, Bob Tiernan, at nearly 18% in the latest totals. The result signaled no overwhelming favorite in a field that included every flavor of conservatism.
But Drazan says she’s not worried. Publicly accepting the nomination in a meeting with reporters, she said Republican voters will unite behind her stances on clearing homeless camps, backing police and supporting business.
“The great thing about this process that we’ve all experienced is that we have more in common than our differences within the Republican Party and within my opponents in this primary,” Drazan said. “I can tell you that I will do everything I can to unify Republicans while at the same time reaching across the aisle to all Oregonians that are looking for change.”
The outcome of the GOP primary had been unclear on election night, largely because a printing snafu dramatically slowed results in Clackamas County. But as more results were posted on Wednesday, Drazan emerged as a clear victor.
“Today I am humbled and honored and grateful to accept the Republican nomination in this race for governor,” Drazan said, accusing Democrats of overseeing a “decade of decline” in Oregon. “This is an opportunity for Oregonians to stand together and to stand up, regardless of party, and choose for our state to go in a new direction.”
A two-term lawmaker from Canby, Drazan emerged as a powerful force in the Republican caucus soon after being elected in 2018. She helped engineer a coup in 2019 to oust then-House GOP Leader Carl Wilson. The following year, she led her members out of state to block a Democratic bill to regulate carbon emissions.
Drazan’s victory cements a gubernatorial field that will include three influential women.
Former House Speaker Tina Kotek dominated a 15-candidate Democratic race, winning 56% of the vote in the latest tally. She brings a long record of passing progressive policies as one of the Capitol’s most powerful figures.
Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, running as an unaffiliated candidate, is widely expected to collect enough signatures to make the November ballot. Johnson was formerly the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, amassing a business-friendly record that has helped her raise millions to fund her campaign.
Drazan is likely to cast both of her opponents as too liberal, citing Kotek’s legislative record and Johnson’s decades as a Democrat. But the Republican nominee, who ran as one of the more centrist candidates in her own race, could face questions about whether she’s conservative enough for some in her party.
While the GOP primary was largely amicable, division did emerge. Particularly notable was a late attack ad against Drazan by Bridget Barton, a conservative political consultant.
The ad pointed out that Drazan and other Republicans in her caucus voted for a bill that requires schools to provide tampons in restrooms. That could include boys’ restrooms, a nod to the fact that some transgender male students would need the products.
The bill, House Bill 3294, didn’t generate much controversy and passed unanimously in the House. Since then, the issue of transgender rights has become a central culture war issue for some in the GOP. The vote, and the fact that Drazan has rejected former President Donald Trump’s lie that the 2020 election was stolen, have led some to deride her as a “RINO,” a Republican in name only.
Drazan said on Thursday that, despite the range of opinions in her party, Republican voters will see she stands up for Republican ideals that include supporting business, reducing crime and allowing people to pursue their “best life.”
“My approach within my party will always be to stand for these larger principles,” she said.
Drazan has largely based her campaign on improving Oregon’s lackluster school outcomes, cleaning up the state’s homelessness crisis and supporting police amid a spike in murders. She said on Thursday that she would declare an emergency around addiction if elected, and make it “less comfortable” for people with addiction issues to choose to live on the street.
“That’s not healthy for them,” Drazan said. “It’s not healthy for our communities.”
Asked about COVID restrictions, which Drazan has repeatedly slammed outgoing Gov. Kate Brown over, she said her approach would be to make recommendations about how businesses should tamp down the spread in the case of a serious spike in infections.
“There’s a huge distinction between regulations and mandates that are enforced with fines and fees and putting people out of business … and making recommendations,” she said.
Drazan raised $2.6 million on her primary and spent nearly all of it. She’ll need to rebuild a war chest if she hopes to compete with the likes of Johnson, who has raised more than $8 million, including big donations from outfits that typically support Republicans.
With Oregon lacking any limit on political giving, the three-way race is expected to shatter records for campaign spending. Johnson speculated this week that the candidates could each spend as much as $25 million seeking election.
“I’m confident that Oregonians will recognize this opportunity to lead our state,” Drazan said. “I will be competitive in this race financially.”