Oregon voters are on the cusp of putting a Republican in the state governor’s mansion for the first time in nearly 40 years. Such a move would break convention and shift a reliably blue state into a win for the GOP.
Many Oregonians and some conservative critics believe Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has not moved forcefully enough to close a yawning $22 billion public pension deficit. So, they’re looking at Brown’s opponent Knute Buehler, a two-term representative in the state who has criticized President Donald Trump in the past. His moderate tone is gaining some steam.
“This is the first candidate I’m crossing party lines for in 20 years,” Danielle Miller, a mortgage loan officer who voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, told The Wall Street Journal Sunday. “Oregon is so behind in so many ways … under our current leadership.”
Oregon would join the handful of states Clinton won in 2016 that have Republican governors. The race is still tight, with recent polls showing Brown ahead by less than 5 percentage points. RealClearPolitics, Cook Political Report, and other polling outfits are rating the race a “toss up.”
Brown, meanwhile, was appointed in 2015 after her predecessor John Kitzhaber resigned amid an ethics scandal. She was elected on her own merit with 51 percent of the vote in 2016, but a school funding crisis, the state’s chronic homelessness, and high taxes are threatening to overcome her liberal pedigree.
“People in this state are getting tired, especially urban, educated well-to-do people,” Elliott Moore, a lifelong Democrat who plans to vote for Buehler, told reporters. “He’s not perfect but I think he is willing to have a conversation about what we need to fix in this state that wasn’t being had.”
Part of Buehler’s success so far is his willingness to etch out a moderate tone — he wrote in Ohio Republican Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 presidential election “What I have demonstrated in my district is you can put together that diverse group of people,” Buehler told reporters in an interview discussing his belief that climate change is real and moderate stance on abortion.
Brown’s campaign is working to paint Buehler as an arch-conservative on issues like the environment and abortion rights — she’s also elevating his support for a ballot measure that would repeal Oregon’s sanctuary state law. The state sets the benchmark for being flagrantly opposed to Trump’s immigration reforms.
Oregon was a sanctuary state before anybody used the word to describe how states work, or refuse to work, with the federal government on immigration enforcement. The state legislature passed a law in 1987 that blocked the state’s police departments from using any resources to arrest or detain people wanted on immigration violations.
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