But that lead may largely have to do with the fact that most Oregonians know very little about Buehler, a state representative from Bend.
The telephone survey of 604 adult Oregonians — taken in late January — found that Brown is backed by 46 percent of respondents compared to 29 percent for Buehler. Nearly a quarter of those polled said they are undecided.
John Horvick, vice president and political director for DHM Research of Portland, said the poll he conducted gives an early view of the race.
“What we’re basically seeing is Kate Brown versus [a] generic Republican,” said Horvick, noting that Buehler has the chance to build support as he becomes more well-known.
“She’s probably vulnerable against a strong candidate,” Horvick added. “It’s yet to be seen whether Knute Buehler is a strong candidate.”
Seven candidates have filed so far to seek the Republican nomination for governor, but only Buehler has raised a significant amount of money in advance of the May 15 primary. He’s so far reported raising $2.8 million.
Another GOP contender emerged last week. Greg Wooldridge, who once led the Navy’s famed Blue Angels jet squadron, said he is planning to run as well.
An online poll taken last September, when Wooldridge was still considering whether to enter the race, showed him running slightly ahead of Buehler among Republicans.
The new OPB poll shows that 49 percent of Oregonians view Brown favorably while 37 percent are critical. That gives her an overall positive rating of 12 percentage points — a decline of three points from where it stood in an October 2016 poll taken for OPB.
At the same time, 23 percent said they had a positive view of Buehler versus 11 percent who were critical. More striking, 65 percent said they didn’t know him, or at least didn’t know enough to have an opinion.
So far, 68 percent of Republicans say they back Buehler. And he’s supported by 22 percent of voters who are unaffiliated or in a third party.
Brown is in a familiar position for a Democratic governor in Oregon. The Democrats have won every Oregon gubernatorial race stretching back to 1986 — but usually not by a blowout.
In the last five races for governor, the Democrat has won with no more than 51 percent of the vote. Third-party candidates generally pick up several percentage points, leaving Republicans in the mid-40s.
Horvick noted that Brown’s approval rating is about what Democrats received in most of their gubernatorial wins.
Thomas Wheatley, a spokesman for Brown’s campaign, said the OPB poll is similar to what her own surveys have shown.
“With the blue wave we’re seeing in the nation … I think we’re seeing a lot of momentum here,” said Wheatley, noting the strong Democratic turnout in several recent elections around the country.
In those contests, Democrats have focused heavily on criticizing President Donald Trump. And the OPB poll shows the president continues to have a low approval rating in Oregon.
The survey found that 36 percent give him positive marks while 59 percent have a negative view of the president. That’s lower than most polls show him doing nationally.
Real Clear Politics, a website that tracks political surveys, says Trump has an average positive rating of 42 percent among recent nationwide polls.
Rebecca Tweed, who is managing Buehler’s campaign, declined to comment. She said his campaign has a policy of not publicly discussing early polls in the race.
Buehler did get some statewide recognition when he ran for secretary of state in 2012 — a race also against Brown, who then held that office. Two years later, he won election to the state Legislature, where lawmakers from both parties largely toil in obscurity.
For example, the OPB poll found that 73 percent of voters didn’t know enough about House Speaker Tina Kotek to assess her job performance. Twenty percent gave her a positive rating and 7 percent rated her negatively.
Respondents in the OPB poll were chosen from registered voter lists but the sample was chosen to reflect the characteristics of all adults.
Horvick also checked among those who said they had voted in recent elections. The results of that group were within a couple of points of the overall poll.
The Jan. 25-31 survey has a margin of error of 4 percentage points.