(UPDATE: The Associated Press called the race for Tina Kotek Thursday night)
Democrat Tina Kotek claimed victory in Oregon’s governor race Wednesday night. The announcement comes as Kotek has widened her lead over Republican Christine Drazan, but with votes stlll being counted.
“I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to serve Oregon, and I will strive every day to be a force for positive change in our state,” Kotek said in a statement. She followed that up with a press conference Thursday morning.
The Kotek campaign was citing projections by The Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting that she had won. The Associated Press, ABC News and CBS News have yet to call the race.
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As of early Thursday afternoon, Kotek’s lead had widened slightly to 46.96% compared to Drazan’s 43.53%. That’s based on 1.61 milion votes counted out of more than 1.8 million ballots returned, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
“Oregon faces major challenges, and I look forward to getting to work to solve them. I promise to be a Governor for all of Oregon,” Kotek said in her Wednesday statement. “I will start by working tirelessly to deliver results on issues of shared concern across our state: housing and homelessness, access to mental health and addiction treatment, helping our students succeed, and supporting small businesses.”
The Drazan campaign released a statement earlier Wednesday, expecting the margin would get closer.
“We are grateful to the many thousands of Oregonians who made their voices heard in this historic election. We continue to monitor returns with the expectation that this race will tighten,” the Drazan campaign said.
The Kotek campaign plans to hold a 10:00 a.m. press conference Thursday.
Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson was at 8.67%. She conceded Tuesday night.
Because of recent changes that allow for ballots to be counted if they are postmarked by election day, it could be a few days before a winner is determined.
All three candidates have experience in the state legislature. Drazan, Kotek and Johnson — who all served in the Oregon Legislature — each said curtailing the crisis of homelessness in Oregon would be their priority if elected governor.
Oregon has not elected a Republican governor in 35 years.
Johnson was hoping to woo centrist Republican and Democratic voters and the biggest slice of Oregon’s electorate: the 1 million unaffiliated voters whose numbers slightly edge registered Democrats and are 40% greater than the number of registered Republicans.
The Democratic Party has repeatedly warned during the campaign that Johnson represented a “spoiler” that could cost Kotek votes. Johnson, who was in the statehouse for 20 years, quit the Democratic Party in 2021 to run as an unaffiliated candidate.
Johnson has dismissed the “spoiler” talk.
Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball, two national, non-partisan elections forecasters, both had this race as a toss-up for weeks. But Sabato’s moved it to “Lean Democratic” in the final days.
Cook’s Governor and Senate Editor Jessica Taylor told Central Oregon Daily News in late September that Drazan would not have a path to victory without Johnson in the race.
But Republicans, seeing an opportunity to flip a governor’s seat long held by Democrats, have poured millions of dollars into the race. Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who previously gave millions to Johnson’s campaign, donated $1 million to Drazan in October.