Positive Polling Continues

This piece originally appeared in The Oregonian and online on Wednesday, 28 September under the title "Christine Drazan, Tina Kotek neck-and-neck in race for Oregon governor, new poll from The Oregonian/OregonLive shows" and the byline Jamie Goldberg

Christine DrazanRepublican Christine Drazan and Democrat Tina Kotek are neck-and-neck in the three-way race for governor six weeks before the November election, according to a new poll commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive.

About 32% of likely Oregon voters said they would vote for Drazan if the election were today, while 31% said they would vote for Kotek, according to the poll conducted by Portland firm DHM Research. Betsy Johnson, a longtime Democratic lawmaker who is running unaffiliated, received 18% support.

That puts Drazan, the former House Republican leader, and Kotek, the former House Speaker, in a statistical tie for first place given the poll's margin of error, plus or minus 4%. About 15% of voters remain undecided, while 3% support Libertarian Party candidate R. Leon Noble and 1% plan to vote for Constitution Party candidate Donice Noelle Smith, the poll found. The poll of 600 likely Oregon voters was conducted on Friday and Saturday, 23-24 September.

The results are a boon for Drazan, who has been able to mount a formidable campaign to become Oregon's first Republican governor since 1987 thanks in part to significant voter dissatisfaction and Johnson's ability to draw some votes away from Kotek. Earlier this month, The Cook Political Report changed its outlook of the race from "lean Democrat" to a "tossup". Cook was the last of the nationally-followed political ratting organizations to make that shift.

Christine Drazan"This is a tossup race," said John Horvick, senior vice president for DHM Research. "Christine Drazan has a real opportunity to be the first Republican governor in nearly 40 years."

The results were in line with at least three other polls on the governor's race publicly released within the last four months, according to a list compiled by FiveThirtyEight. Most recently, a poll conducted by Clout Research in August showed Drazan leading Kotek with 33% support to 32%. That poll showed Johnson trailing with 21%.

An apparent outlier poll, conducted for the Johnson campaign, pegged Drazan at only 23% while lifting Johnson into second place at 30% — completely the opposite of every other poll taken this cycle. That poll pulled Drazan's overall rating on FiveThirtyEight down to 30.8%, trailing Kotek's more consistent 32.2%.

"Christine Drazan is on the doorstep of history," campaign spokesperson John Burke said in an email. "No candidate in recent memory has come as close as she is to ending the 35 years of one-party control of the governor's office. Our state is ready for a new direction and voters increasingly recognize Christine as the only candidate who will deliver. We are excited about the momentum we are seeing and will continue to run hard through Election Day."

Johnson has outraised and outspent her competitors. Since the beginning of 2021, Johnson has raised nearly $11.4 million and spent $9.7 million, according to campaign finance records showing transactions through late August. That includes big checks from donors who historically supported Republicans, like Phil Knight. In comparison, Kotek has raised $10.9 million and spent $8.6 million while Drazan has raised $9.7 million and spent $8 million, according to campaign finance records through this month.

"[Johnson's] got lots of money to spend in the next five weeks and money matters," Horvick said. "But it looks to me at this point that the path for Betsy Johnson is narrowing very quickly."

Christine DrazanVoters continued to favor Drazan and Kotek when DHM Research pollsters forced them to choose between only the three leading candidates with Drazan receiving 35% support, Kotek receiving 33% and Johnson receiving 21%, the new poll found. About 12% said they still weren't sure who they would vote for, even though that wasn't listed as a choice by pollsters.

Of voters who said they would vote for Drazan if the election were held today with five candidates listed on the ballot, 64% indicated they were certain they would vote for her while 33% said they were only leaning her way. Similarly, 61% of those who said they were supporting Kotek said they were certain they would vote for her while 37% indicated they were leaning her way. In contrast, only 47% of voters who said they would vote for Johnson indicated they were certain of that decision, indicating that she is trailing the other top candidates both in overall support and the commitment of her potential voters.

"We're doing this campaign the hard way," Johnson told supporters in an email Wednesday after the release of the new poll. "While the polls may say we are down, I love Oregon too much to surrender to cynicism. We may be playing from behind, but so is Oregon. I'm not running for Miss Congeniality, I intend to hold Tina Kotek accountable for her dangerous, far-left record and I won't stop fighting for Oregon's future until the last vote is counted."

Among the three candidates, voters viewed Drazan the most positively with 18% indicating that they had a very positive opinion of her and another 18% saying they had a somewhat positive opinion of her. In comparison, 13% had a very positive opinion and 18% had a somewhat positive opinion of Kotek, while only 9% had a very positive opinion of Johnson and 26% had a somewhat positive opinion of her. About 27% said they didn't have any opinion of Drazan, while a fourth said they had no opinion of Johnson and a fifth said they had no opinion of Kotek — an indication that the three candidates still have time to make their case to a significant number of voters.

"So much is on the line in November — defending abortion access, preventing gun violence, protecting our environment, and standing up for workers," said Katie Wertheimer, Kotek's campaign spokesperson. "We are seeing support from all around the state because Tina is the only candidate who will actually solve our biggest problems. Christine Drazan and Betsy Johnson would only make things worse by moving Oregon to the far-right."

Christine DrazanDespite Democrats significantly outnumbering Republicans in voter registration in Oregon, Drazan has been able to gain traction in the race for governor amid significant dissatisfaction in the direction state is headed under Democrat control. About 62% of voters said that Oregon is on the wrong track, while 25% indicated that the state is heading in the right direction and 13% said they were unsure, the poll found. In addition, 47% of likely voters said they had a very negative opinion of Kate Brown, Oregon’s latest Democrat governor. Only 10% said they had a very positive view of her and 21% said they had a somewhat positive opinion of her.

"The political environment is really challenging for Democrats," Horvick said. "People are feeling bad about the direction of the state. The national political environment is difficult for Democrats."

Still, Horvick said that Kotek may have an opportunity to pick up key votes in the coming weeks if she can rally the Democrat base. Only 60% of Democrats polled said they would vote for Kotek if the election were today, while 71% of Republicans polled said they'd vote for Drazan. About 19% of Democrats polled and 13% of Republicans polled said they would vote for Johnson. "Kotek has yet to solidify her base," he said. "You can look at that as a weakness but you can also look at that as an underlying opportunity for her. For me, that's something to be paying attention to."

A poll conducted by DHM Research in early October 2018 found that Democrat Kate Brown was leading Republican Knute Buehler in the race for governor with 40% support to 35% with 17% undecided. That proved to be an accurate picture of the race. Brown went on to beat Buehler by about six percentage points a month later, gaining just over 50% of the vote.

Similarly, barring a major event, Horvick said he would be surprised to see the outlook of this year's race change substantially ahead of Election Day. “I would expect at this point a very close election,” he said. “I think the structural advantages for a Democrat in Oregon can’t be overlooked. … But this is the best opportunity for Republicans, for sure, since 2010.”


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