A former Democrat is threatening to tip Oregon’s Nov. 8 gubernatorial election to conservatives, but the party thinks it’s found just the issue to keep liberal voters in its corner: gun control.
Oregon, a solid blue state where Democrats have controlled the governor’s office since the 1980s, is set to have one of the wackiest gubernatorial elections of the midterm cycle. Former state House Speaker Tina Kotek is the Democratic candidate, with former state Rep. Christine Drazan securing the GOP nomination.
A third candidate, Betsy Johnson, is scrambling the electoral calculus. Previously a longtime Democratic state senator with a conservative voting record, Johnson has left the party and is running as an independent with the backing of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who has donated $1.75 million to her campaign, and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat representing the 5th District who lost his primary to a progressive challenger earlier this year.
Republicans smell an opportunity. The Republican Governors Association recently poured $1 million into the race, saying it’s one of the party’s best chances to flip a Democrat-controlled state.
The limited polling available has come from Republican organizations, but it shows a tight and fluid contest, with no candidate earning more than 40% of voters’ support.
Democrats have decided their task is to keep the party’s voters from defecting to Johnson.
A new ad from Kotek’s campaign highlighting Johnson’s long-held support for gun rights shows a key part of their strategy. Johnson had an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, voted against a “red flag” gun control law and also owns a submachine gun.
The Kotek campaign’s ad features a mother, whose children are frolicking on a nearby playground, discussing the independent candidate.
“To hear that Betsy Johnson opposed red flag laws to keep guns out of the hands of people like the Uvalde shooter, and opposed background checks and safe storage laws — I’m a hard no,” the mom says, referring to the gunman who shot over 20 people in a Texas elementary school in May.
The mom in the ad, Angela Uherbelau, protested against Johnson’s speech at TEDxPortland earlier this year — and had her own speaking slot at the event revoked as a result.
A survey conducted in July by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center research group found broad support for gun control in the state: 56% of Oregonians said gun laws should be stricter, 14% said they should be less strict and 22% said they should stay the same.
The poll also found 66% support for a ban on assault weapons, 81% support for restricting the age of gun purchases to people 21 and up, and 88% support for universal background checks on gun sales.
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