PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — In most election cycles, America wouldn’t pay attention to the Portland, Oregon, mayoral race — but this isn’t a normal year.
Months of protests against racial injustice and police violence have made Portland national news in a divisive election year, and President Donald Trump routinely derides Mayor Ted Wheeler as a weak liberal unable to stop unrest in his “anarchist” city.
But as Wheeler spars with Trump, the mayor is also facing a threat at home from the opposite end of the political spectrum: a far-left challenger who supports $50 million in law enforcement cuts and slams her opponent for what she describes as an aggressive police force. Hemmed in by critics, Wheeler recently lent his campaign $150,000 as he struggles to fend off Sarah Iannarone.
“The race is really in flux,” said Jim Moore, a Pacific University political science professor.
“The thing that will cause him to lose is responding to the protests in all their complexity. That’s why Portland’s election is important nationally, not just because of the protests but also because of the president. The president brings it up all the time.”
Wheeler narrowly missed winning a second term outright in May but the career Democrat’s approval ratings plummeted as protests dominated headlines into the fall.
Business interests and moderates are angry that he’s let the protests go on so long, while passionate, far-left-leaning progressives are embracing the unrest as necessary for rooting out systemic racism.
Many of those voters are backing Iannarone, who has attended three dozen protests and touts campaign bumper stickers that read “Everyday Antifascist. Always.”
Recent polling shows Wheeler trailing his challenger, but with many undecided voters. Oregon, a universal vote-by-mail state, will send out ballots this week.