Independent Party member Patrick Starnes is the party's gubernatorial nomination.

Independent Party member Patrick Starnes is the party’s gubernatorial nomination.

Ann Suckow/OPB

A Willamette Valley cabinetmaker has fended off write-in challenges from the two major candidates for governor to win the Independent Party nomination during the May primary.

Brownsville resident Patrick Starnes finished with 6,030 votes, compared to 5,793 for Bend Republican Knute Buehler and 2,899 for Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in final but unofficial results, according to Oregon Elections Director Steve Trout.

Starnes handily beat the other two Independent Party candidates listed on the primary ballot — in large part because he was the only one who ponied up $3,000 to appear in the Oregon Voters’ Pamphlet.

But Starnes said he could tell that Buehler and Brown were both competing hard for the nomination. He said he saw mailers, Facebook ads and texts urging Independent voters to write in either Brown or Buehler. Under Oregon law, candidates are allowed to win the cross-nomination from parties other than their own and to include that information on the ballot.

The Buehler campaign appeared to put the most effort into winning the Independent Party nomination. The state representative sent out a half-dozen mailers to Independent voters and emphasized that he had won the party’s nomination in his two legislative races.

The nomination would have given Buehler the opportunity to add the Independent label on his ballot, something his campaign strategists thought would have been valuable in attracting unaffiliated voters. It also would have meant that there was no separate candidate from the Independent Party on the ballot siphoning off anti-Brown votes that Buehler hopes to win.

Starnes, 56, said he is self-employed and will have the time to campaign around the state.

“We’re going to make the November election a referendum on campaign finance reform,” he said, arguing that Oregon should put strict limits on the flow of big money into politics.

Starnes has served on two school boards, the McKenzie School District and the Douglas Education Service District. Since he’s self-employed, Starnes said he plans to campaign full-time and will try to get in as many debates and joint appearances as possible.

Campaign aides to Buehler and Brown said they haven’t yet focused on the issue of including third-party candidates in the debates. But there was progress Wednesday on finalizing debates among the two.

The Brown and Buehler campaigns each said their candidate will participate in a Medford debate held by KOBI in early October and a Portland debate on KGW later in that month. They’ve also both said they want to participate in a debate sponsored by Children First for Oregon that would feature “kids and youths asking the questions,” according to the group’s website.

Tonia Hunt, executive director of Children First, said she is working with KOIN and Pamplin Media on the details and is confident the debate will be held — and televised — in September or October.

Buehler issued a statement Wednesday, saying he has accepted five debate offers and would like to do as many as 10 during the fall campaign.

Brown last month said she wanted to participate in three televised debates. In addition, she said she would participate in joint appearances with the Pamplin Media and Willamette Week editorial boards, as well as with as many other independent media outlets as possible.