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Oregon’s Three-Woman Gubernatorial Race Is a First

The state is one of three this year in which both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates are women, though Oregon has a third female candidate who is “unaffiliated.” Only nine current governors are women.

(TNS) — Oregon’s three-woman race for governor this fall, featuring not only female Democratic and Republican candidates, but a well-funded viable unaffiliated candidate, is “unheard of” in the nation, according to an expert on women in politics.

With months until the general election and a summer slowdown in advertising, the uniqueness of Oregon’s gubernatorial matchup between longtime state lawmakers Democrat Tina Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson might not have sunk in for some voters.

Oregon would be in a unique position even if Johnson were not expected to be on the ballot in November: the state is one of three this year in which both the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates are women, according to Jean Sinzdak, associate director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey. The other two states with two major-party women candidates running for governor this year are Iowa and Alabama. Only nine current governors across the country are women.

“It’s even more deeply unusual that not only is it a woman-versus-woman race, but there are three candidates,” Sinzdak said. “It definitely has not happened before ... Oregon’s really standing out when it comes to this particular race.”

Nationally, the number of viable independent and third party candidates for governor has decreased in recent decades, Portland State University associate political science professor Chris Shortell noted in an email.

A recent poll paid for by legislative Republicans showed Johnson with 24.4 percent support, which put her in third behind Kotek and Drazan but well within striking distance of the Democrat and Republican. Johnson, a former Democratic state senator who left the Legislature last year to run for governor as an unaffiliated candidate, counts wealthy business people and other influential individuals with a history of supporting Republican candidates among her donors, including Nike co-founder Phil Knight and Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle.

Johnson has reported raising $9.4 million, compared with Drazan’s $4.3 million. Kotek has reported raising $3.2 million, a figure that is certain to rise steeply as public employee unions and other interest groups ramp up spending in the coming months. Oregon has no contribution limits in effect, since Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum and Secretary of State Shemia Fagan have concluded limits that voters approved in 2006 are not enforceable.

Fifteen states still have not held gubernatorial primary elections, so it’s possible that more states could wind up with at least two female candidates for governor on the ballot. But 2022 already stands out for the number of woman-versus-woman gubernatorial elections, Sinzdak said.

Oregon is also on track this year to increase the number of women in its congressional delegation, with the state set to have at least two women in Congress following the November election, up from just one currently. If women candidates for Congress win all of the races in which they are running, Oregon would have four women representing the state in Congress.

©2022 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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