Knute Buehler is surging ahead in the Republican race for governor, according to a surprising source: a poll taken for one of his opponents.
One of Buehler’s opponents, Bend businessman Sam Carpenter, released a new survey showing that he is rapidly falling behind Buehler after an earlier poll presented the race as a tie.
Candidates don’t usually release polls that show them going in the wrong direction. But Carpenter said he was hoping it would persuade the other anti-abortion conservatives in the race to drop out and support him.
“If they would back my campaign, we would have a shot at this,” Carpenter said Thursday.
Abortion has been a topic of attack Buehler's opponents have focused on in the primary, given his pro-choice stances in the past.
Another candidate, Bruce Cuff, did drop out of the race this week. But the Marion County real estate broker didn’t back Carpenter. Instead, he backed Greg Wooldridge, the retired Navy aviator who has the endorsement of Oregon Right to Life.
“Out of Sam and Greg,” Cuff said, “I believe that Greg is the only one in this race as a conservative that can actually win the primary, bring the party together…and beat [Democratic Gov.] Kate Brown."
Cuff has not been regarded as a major factor in this year’s race. But he did pick up nearly 12 percent of the vote when he ran in the 2016 Republican gubernatorial primary.
Cuff’s name will remain on the ballot, but he said he is actively working to get his followers to vote for Wooldridge.
Wooldridge’s campaign put out a press release urging Carpenter to get out of the race. Wooldridge said in an interview he doesn’t think Carpenter has the “temperament” to serve as governor.
“I think we need somebody stronger, more ready to take the job,” Wooldridge said.
Carpenter claimed that he is running far ahead of Wooldridge and that it would be “insane” for him to drop out.
One thing that both Carpenter and Wooldridge agree on: Buehler is growing in support thanks to an advertising campaign that his rivals haven’t been able to match.
Buehler’s campaign disclosure reports show he has spent more than $800,000 on TV commercials, mailings and digital advertising.
“He’s essentially purchased the nomination,” said Carpenter, who has contended that Buehler won’t be able to keep conservative Republicans behind him in a general-election matchup with Brown. His new poll shows Buehler at 39 percent, Carpenter at 24 percent and Wooldridge at 12 percent.
Wooldridge acknowledged he is “fighting and clawing to get our name out there,” while Buehler is building his name recognition with voters. He said Buehler would have trouble getting pro-life voters to support him in the fall.
Buehler’s campaign could not be reached for comment Thursday. The state representative from Bend has been regarded as the front-runner in the primary race, thanks in part to his strong support from many establishment Republican and business figures.