PORTLAND, Ore. -- It took nearly 24 hours after the polls closed, but Democratic candidate John Kitzhaber overtook newcomer Chris Dudley in total votes late Wednesday afternoon, and Dudley conceded the governor's race shortly thereafter.
Kitzhaber, already a former two-time governor, is now the projected winner to lead Oregon for a third term. He gave his victory speech Thursday morning, promising to take on the state's weak economy and high unemployment as his first priority.
Late Wednesday, Kitzhaber had pulled ahead of Dudley by just over 6,000 votes, and late returns from Multnomah County were expected to solidify Kitzhaber's lead and final victory.
Dudley spoke Wednesday night and said he had called Kitzhaber and it was best to now thank his supporters and let everyone move on. Dudley said it became clear which way the numbers were going in the race with a razor-thin margin.
Multnomah County Director of Elections Tim Scott said they estimated all their ballots would be opened by 8 p.m., verified and then counted, with final counted estimated to be completed between midnight and 2 a.m.
Tuesday evening, Kitzhaber addressed his supporters and, although trailing, expressed confidence that late returns from Multnomah County would push him to victory. Video: Kitzhaber addresses supporters
About thirty minutes later, Chris Dudley addressed his supports, saying: "We're up now, and we'll be up in the morning!" Video: Dudley addresses supporters
The race was expected to be the closest governor's result in more than 50 years. In 1956, the election for governor was decided by fewer than 9000 votes when Democrat William Wallace Thayer edged Republican C.C. Beekman. More: Jeff Mapes Blog - '56 Election
An automatic recount would be triggered if the final vote different was two-tenths of one percent of the vote. Based on this year's turnout, the candidates would have to be separated by less than 3,000 votes to trigger an automatic recount.
A candidate could request a recount even if the final vote count showed a wider separation, but the candidate would have to pay for the recount.
Hotly contested, closely followed
The former two-term governor Kitzhaber and the political newcomer Dudley spent at least $15 million this year.
Kitzhaber has emphasized the message that he has the experience to guide Oregon through a difficult looming budgeting process and tough economic circumstances. Twitter updates on Kitzhaber campaign
Dudley has emphasized the need for a new direction, with an emphasis on creating new jobs and curtailing government. Twitter updates on Dudley campaign
Two polls shortly before the election each showed the candidates virtually tied once margin of error was factored into the results.
Budget issues key
The next governor faces a tough task. The state faces a budget gap expected to be as much as $3 billion when the Legislature begins writing a new budget next year.
Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, leaving office after the two straight terms allowed by Oregon law, has described Oregon's budget situation as heading for a cliff.
Twice this year, as state finances deteriorated, he's called for across-the-board budget cuts that have resulted in teacher layoffs and a prison closing. He and a board of advisers have said sterner measures will be required next year.
Neither candidate has been willing to thoroughly describe what sort of changes Oregonians could expect and how wrenching they would be.
Dudley's campaign centered on cutting business taxes. He said investors lack confidence in Oregon because of business tax increases the voters approved in January, and that lack of confidence has contributed to the state's weak recovery from the Great Recession.
Kitzhaber's campaign focused on "systems changes," for example, redesigning the state's education system under one governing body from preschool through postgraduate, and setting the state on a 10-year budget cycle.
Dudley argued that Kitzhaber had his chance in the 1990s as governor, and it didn't turn out well: The state economy went into a tailspin at the end of his tenure, and Kitzhaber described Oregon as "ungovernable" because of excessive partisanship and the lack of flexibility imposed by initiated measures.
Kitzhaber said his tenure was marked by boom times in Oregon, thanks to the growth of the high-tech Silicon Forest. He said that he would be ready from "Day One," while Dudley, never in public office, would suffer because of his inexperience.
There was close-quarters, elbows-flying campaigning that's not common in Oregon politics. Dudley faced allegations that during his basketball years, he moved to Washington state to avoid some Oregon taxes and got a $350,000 tax deduction for allowing the Lake Oswego fire department to burn his house for a training exercise. Kitzhaber faced questions about state contracts obtained by a company owned by Kitzhaber's longtime girlfriend.
Dudley outraised Kitzhaber by about 3-2, according to filings near the end of the campaign, although that's not unusual for Republicans in governor's races.
Kitzhaber sought to deploy the Democrats' chief advantage in Oregon, the large registration lead that has grown in recent years, in part because of the 2008 campaign of President Barack Obama, who returned to Oregon in the final days of the campaign to urge Kitzhaber's supporters to get out the vote.
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