U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader was spurned by members of his party in May, losing his bid for the Democratic nomination to keep his seat.
Now Schrader is doing some spurning of his own.
The seven-term congressman announced Tuesday he’s endorsing unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson over Democrat Tina Kotek in this year’s hotly contested race for Oregon governor.
“People are concerned with the far-right and they’re exhausted with the extremism on the left,” Schrader said in a statement released by Johnson’s campaign. “It seems the extremes on both sides just want to fight, leaving the rest of us frustrated. I believe Betsy Johnson is the leader Oregon needs to move us forward.”
Schrader’s decision to oppose his party’s nominee is not surprising — he hinted he was likely to do as much in an interview with KATU last month.
And Schrader has much in common with Johnson. He has long been Oregon’s most centrist congressional Democrat, and recently angered members of his party by voting against a major pandemic-relief package and a proposal to allow Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.
Those votes are among the reasons voters in Oregon’s dramatically reshaped 5th congressional district ousted Schrader in May, instead nominating a more progressive candidate, Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
Johnson similarly bucked members of her party in two decades as a Democratic state lawmaker, often voting with Republicans on issues such as gun control and proposals to curb carbon emissions. That centrist stance won her powerful allies among the state’s business community and made her politically invincible in her northwest Oregon district.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson’s politics will be as attractive to voters statewide — particularly since she’s mounting a third-party run that some political observers believe will be impossible to pull off.
Johnson’s campaign has released polling it says shows her in a competitive race against Kotek. But two other publicly released polls showed Johnson farther back, and paint a tight race between Kotek and Republican nominee Christine Drazan, a former House minority leader. With three months until ballots go out to voters, politics forecasting website FiveThirtyEight currently gives Johnson a less-than 1% chance of winning in November.
First, though, Johnson needs to qualify as an unaffiliated candidate. To do that, she must collect nearly 24,000 signatures from voters by Aug. 16. She is widely expected to succeed, and with more than $9 million raised should be able to run a formidable campaign.
Johnson has collected other notable endorsements from partisan politicians, including former Republican U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, former Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and Bridget Barton, a conservative Republican who finished fourth in her party’s May gubernatorial primary.
The bulk of state and federal elected officials are going with their party’s nominee, whether that’s Drazan or Kotek.