PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon's race for governor in 2022 featured three strong candidates, all women. Tina Kotek ultimately won the race, continuing a growing line of Democratic governors. But for months leading up to the vote, it looked as if Christine Drazan had a serious chance of becoming Oregon's first Republican governor in decades.
Fundraising in the 2022 governor's race hit a record high, with more than $70 million pouring into the race. Kotek claimed the lion's share, bringing in $30 million. But with $22.6 million, Drazan was not far behind.
Both candidates spent nearly all of their funds on TV spots and advertising for their campaigns.
When all was said and done, Kotek pulled ahead with 917,000 votes. Drazan claimed second with 850,000 votes, followed by unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson with 168,000 votes.
The Story's Pat Dooris recently sat down with Drazan to talk about her takeaways from the election and what she might be planning next.
A campaign postmortem
It was pretty clear by election night that Johnson would not be a factor — at least, she wouldn't be claiming the governor's office. But it was not at all clear to Drazan and her team that she would lose.
Christine Drazan: On election night I did not know that we weren't going to win — I didn't know how it was going to turn out, but I did not at that time know that we weren't going to be successful in the race.
Pat Dooris: What was that moment like when you finally did realize that?
CD: You know, it was devastating. I felt like I had let people down.
PD: Yeah, but you've done your best.
CD: Well, so I think that what people deserve, though, is when you fight as hard as we did, you know, when you really give it your whole heart and soul, you have to just really deeply commit to that goal. And I think that's what people did. That's what I did. And so you know, on the other side of that ... it's, it's devastating.
PD: Fair, but how could you feel like you would let people down if you did everything that you could possibly do?
CD: Well, I think that that's just kind of your natural tendency. Because I had the opportunity over the course of this last year to travel the whole state and I would talk to people who would just feel like they were just at the end of their rope and they really were just so desperate to have somebody bring a little bit of hope into their communities and into their families and their schools and businesses — and that sense that it really was an all or nothing, do or die moment. I just felt it everywhere I went across the state.
No doubt Tina Kotek would say that she felt the same frustration among voters, though perhaps for different reasons. But these are Drazan's thoughts on the campaign.
Dooris asked Drazan what impact she thought Betsy Johnson's candidacy had on the shape of the campaign. Did having a former conservative Democrat who often voted with Republicans — running unaffiliated with either party — help Drazan's campaign or hurt it?
CD: I think it hurt me. She, you know, she raised money almost exclusively from people that weren't supporting Tina Kotek. And so when I talk about being outspent in the end, you know, $17 to $18 million — whatever she raised wasn't available for my race.
And, you know, she, really she really hurt my ability to compete financially, which matters to be able to get sort of your perspective out there and say: "Listen, this just isn't true. You know what she's trying to tell you is just not true."
It's misleading and I just didn't have the resources to do that, so that was harmful and she also, you know overperformed in parts of the state that I won and underperformed in parts of the state that Tina won.
PD: Oh, interesting. OK, so if she had been stronger in the metro area, for example, that might have benefited you somehow.
CD: Yeah, and I think that having a third party candidate that is that well-funded — we've known all along she was going to have an impact on who won. You know, whoever was able to kind of hold on to their voters and keep them from being siphoned off would be the person that could make it out of this three-way election and Tina was able to hold on to Multnomah County, and in a very big way and, you know, keep her voters from voting for Betsy. And so, here we are.
Johnson did indeed raise $17.5 million, earning early support from some big Oregon business types like Nike co-founder Phil Knight. It's not clear that all of that money would have gone to Drazan instead, but she is likely correct in that Johnson's candidacy had an impact on the fundraising landscape in the race. Knight, for example, switched to funding the Republican late in the game.
Dooris and Drazan talked about another big topic during the last election — perhaps the biggest elephant in the room for November 2022: abortion.
Kotek made it clear that she would stand behind the very strong protections that Oregon has for abortion services and the unrestricted right for women to receive an abortion. Drazan never clearly stated her personal position on abortion, referring to it as a red herring due to the protections that Oregon already has in place. However, she discovered that it was an effective issue for her opponent, one that she thinks may have peeled away potential Drazan voters.
CD: Over the course of the race it became clear that as, you know, as Tina spent more and more money on this issue, that she was able to convince people that an issue that is settled law in Oregon was somehow something that was at risk. It was disingenuous at best and it was deceptive and people were afraid, women were afraid, and over the course of that campaign ...
And the thing about it is, I'm not against anybody. And I've always, I have a personal faith that lands me in a particular place on that issue, but I was always super clear (my position has been to) uphold the law, and I would as governor.
And it was — it took an additional $8 million and you know, an issue like abortion for Tina to be able to hold on to the governor seat. And that's sometimes just how it goes.
You know, we could not have predicted that that issue was going to come up. I still believe that Oregonians want a governor that wants to unite them. I believe that Oregonians want a governor that wants to work on issues that will affect their day-to-day lives. But when it came down to it, I do believe that was a big issue.
PD: Do you think would have made a difference if you'd gone a step farther and said — or further, whichever word that is — would have, would have made a difference if you said, "It's this, it's the state law and I'm not going to touch it." Because I wonder if people, though, sort of thought, "Well, yeah, but if her friends get in and they change the state law then we got trouble."
CD: Right, which is really — that really is the basis for the fear. You know that it's not, that it's going to, that this is going to happen. And then this, and then this and then this. It's just not fair to Oregon voters to traffic in fear. And that was the race that she ran at the end.
I mean, I am — I have nothing to do with the events of January 6th and I was really clear that abortion is settled law in Oregon. And all of those things just got sort of set to the side and ignored and, and — you know, Tina ran a race that was intended to kind of paint a picture of her opponent that was inaccurate, and it worked.
It seems clear that if Drazan wants to run again, she'll need to come up with a strategy that will allow her to paint the picture that she wants to portray — one that can't be altered by her opponent. And Drazan is not ruling out running again.
CD: I just care about my state and I believe in opportunities that are here to make a difference and what that looks like for me. I'm still figuring it out. I was 100% all in for the governor's race and wouldn't have done it any other way.
And so you know, that means I'm taking some time and I'm going to figure out how I'm going to participate and engage in the future. But I don't know today.
PD: Think you'll run again?
CD: You know I would — I would not put it past me to do something as silly as that again, but I don't know, I really don't know. What I do know is this is my place, this is my state and I think it is worth fighting for. And I've got some fight left in me.
The lightning round
PD: Best thing about the campaign?
CD: Without question it was the people I got to meet.
PD: OK, worst thing?
CD: The people I got to meet.
PD: You can't be both — different groups, I guess, huh?
CD: Yeah, no. I'm, I'm kind of kidding. I would say maybe the worst thing about the campaign was just how much of it I couldn't control. Like, after the campaign I remember I got a message from somebody that didn't vote for me. You know, I have no idea why people would reach out to me after the campaign that didn't vote for me. But he reached out after the campaign and said, "I didn't vote for you, you know, but I want to talk about X, Y and Z issues."
And the thing about it for me was, what that person was trying to tell me was that, in some ways, on those issues I didn't communicate in a way that was clear to him or that got through to him or answered his questions on those issues, and so I think that was a part that was hard for me. (It) was knowing that the other side of the aisle was effectively confusing people or deceiving them, and that ability to kind of break through that and have a direct conversation and a direct relationship with everybody isn't possible. And you kind of wish that it was — you kind of wish you could sit down with them and just say, "Ask me." Just like, "Let's have a conversation."