PORTLAND, Ore. — President Joe Biden's second visit to Oregon this year comes as polls show a dead heat between Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan in the race for governor, and analysts say the president is trying to drum up enthusiasm for Kotek's campaign.
Recent polling from Clout Research shows about 38% of likely voters say they'll support Kotek, while 44% say they'll support Drazan. Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson has support from only about 11% of the people polled. Clout Research surveyed 842 likely Oregon voters by phone during the second weekend in October. With a 3% margin of error, the polls indicate that the race is tight — this election, Oregon may not be the blowout Democrat state it has been for the past four decades.
Enter President Biden, the highest-profile Democrat in the country, to raise money and support to try and keep Oregon's governor seat blue. Pacific University political science professor Jim Moore said that while Kotek is not necessarily in trouble yet, her campaign needs all the help it can get.
"She's in for the race of her life right now," Moore told KGW in an interview Thursday. This year more than usual, Moore said, "you gotta fight for every vote."
Democrats have held Oregon's governor seat since former Governor Vic Atiyeh's term from 1979 to 1987. Every election cycle, Republican candidates hope to be the one to break the blue streak, but for decades, Democrats have dominated. This could be the year things change, experts say, all because of Betsy Johnson's campaign.
"Betsy Johnson has thrown a monkey wrench in all of the calculations," Moore said. "She's kind of upended the usual calculus we would make of registered Democrats far outnumbering registered Republicans. And the way unaffiliated voters would vote."
At this point the chances of Johnson winning are looking less and less likely, but her campaign is pulling big enough numbers from both sides that Kotek and Drazan are fighting for every vote.
"It's not clear still who Betsy Johnson takes votes away from," Moore said. "It's even between the Republican and the Democrat. But Betsy Johnson seems to have Democratic ideas and Republican ideas. They appear to attract voters and repel voters in kind of the same proportions."
Moore said that all of the candidates have used the same messaging and strategies since the primary election in May, but in the final stretch here, they need to go big to drum up voter turnout — hence President Biden's visit.
"These are people who see the President of the United States coming here saying, 'I think this person has what it takes to be an executive, to be governor. They are gubernatorial. You should support them.' That will get the Democrats going, and if Tina Kotek turns it into commercials, it might get the broader family of Democrats really enthused about voting and turn out at a higher rate," said Moore.
On Drazan's side, Virginia's Republican governor Glenn Youngkin will campaign for her at an event in Aurora on Tuesday night. Youngkin was elected in November 2021, taking back the governor's seat for Republicans for the first time since 2014.
A recent poll showed a surge in approval ratings for Youngkin, with 50% of Virginians approving of his term so far, according to The Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University.
The national attention shows the race isn't just about Oregon issues, Moore said. "It's a nationally important election."