An already crowded race for Oregon governor is about to gain another noteworthy candidate.
House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, a Canby Republican known for legislative tactics that frequently infuriate rival Democrats, is planning to seek the GOP nomination for the job, an aide confirmed Tuesday. Her intentions were first reported by Willamette Week.
“When it comes to standing up for Oregonians, against powerful special interests and entrenched politicians in Salem, I’ve never backed down from a fight—and now I am ready to fight for the future of Oregon,” Drazan said in a statement. “I look forward to formally launching my campaign to serve the people of Oregon as their governor in the weeks ahead.”
If she follows through, Drazan’s candidacy would inject some additional gravitas into a Republican slate that currently lacks any candidates who’ve won election to the Legislature or a higher statewide position.
The Republican field currently includes Salem oncologist Bud Piece, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, conservative campaign consultant Bridget Barton, Medford businesswoman Jessica Gomez and Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten, among others.
The lack of interest among higher-profile GOP elected officials partly reflects the party’s abysmal recent history in seeking the governorship: Republicans have not won the job in 40 years, and some in the party despair of their chances next year, as well. The party currently accounts for just a quarter of the state’s registered voters, compared to the 35% of registered voters who are Democrats.
Others, presumably including Drazan, see new opportunity in 2022.
Potential for a political shift in Oregon politics?
The Virginia governor’s race earlier this month suggested that Republicans could be primed for success next year, even in blue states. Maybe more impactful, though, is the candidacy of state Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is abandoning her longtime affiliation with the Democratic Party to run for governor as an independent. Johnson plans to collect enough signatures next year to land her on the November ballot, and will not need to compete in a May primary.
Members of Drazan’s camp see Johnson’s decision as a rare opportunity. Johnson’s prodigious fundraising, they believe, will lead to a viable campaign that strips away enough votes from the Democratic candidate to give Republicans a chance next November. (Some Democrats argue, meanwhile, that Johnson’s campaign creates even greater headwinds for Republicans, because of her ability to attract business dollars that typically flow to the GOP.)
First elected to the House in 2018, Drazan quickly rose through the ranks, staging a coup that placed her atop the Republican caucus less than a year into the job.
In the time since, she’s built a reputation as an unbending leader. In 2020, she and her party’s members fled to Reno to block Democrats’ signature climate change bill. Since House Democrats control a supermajority of seats, Republicans under Drazan’s watch have made a habit of using delay tactics to slow the passage of Democratic bills, arguing their perspectives aren’t being considered by the majority party.
Drazan’s time as leader has led to an extremely strained relationship with House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, who is also running for governor. Earlier this year, Drazan called for Kotek’s formal censure on the House floor after the speaker broke a deal to grant Republicans an equal say in redistricting. While nothing about the governor’s race is clear at this point, the two women could wind up facing off in what would certainly be a highly charged general election in November 2022.
First, though, Drazan will have to convince Republicans she’s the best person for the job. The lawmaker has raised a little less than $200,000 so far this year, and will need to make up ground if she hopes to compete with her better funded primary opponents.
Pierce, the Salem doctor who was the Republican Party’s 2016 nominee for governor, has already raised more than $750,000, including more than $300,000 of his own money. Pulliam, meanwhile, has recorded nearly $530,000 in contributions, and Barton has reported more than $380,000.