Retired U.S. Navy pilot Greg Wooldridge won a Republican gubernatorial straw poll at the Dorchester Conference Saturday, defeating the leading GOP candidate in the Oregon governor's race, Rep. Knute Buehler.
Wooldridge, who previously headed the famed Blue Angels aerial stunt team, won 40 percent of the votes, compared with 29 percent for Buehler.
Only 147 votes were cast in the straw poll, so it doesn't necessarily say much about the Republican electorate as a whole. But it does indicate that many GOP activists continue to have doubts about Buehler's support for abortion rights, his recent vote for a bill tightening the state's gun law and his occasional criticism of President Donald Trump.
"You cannot out-Democrat the Democrats," Marylin Shannon, Oregon's Republican national committeewoman, said of Buehler.
Before the results were announced Saturday night, Buehler dismissed the importance of the event.
"There's nothing scientific about this" poll, he said, adding that he was tied up at the Oregon Legislature most of Saturday and did little politicking at the event.
Buehler has so far reported raising $2.8 million for his campaign and has $1.8 million in the bank with the May 15 primary not far off.
Wooldridge only entered the race in early February and so far has reported raising just $28,000.
But he described the straw-poll win as a "significant victory" that "shows there is a road ahead to win the primary."
Wooldridge acknowledged the small number of votes cast but said it would be useful with fundraising, which he added is a crucial task ahead. "I've got to keep courting the donors," he said.
Bend businessman Sam Carpenter finished third, and four other Republicans also received votes.
It was clear earlier in the day that Buehler would have difficulty with the straw poll when attendees were allowed to speak for up to minute about who they favored in the race for Oregon governor. It wasn't until the 12th speaker that someone expressed support for Buehler. And that was his wife, Patty.
The Buehler campaign sought to focus on House Minority Leader Mike McLane's announcement Saturday that he was endorsing Buehler. Several Buehler supporters at the conference said the legislator was focused on a campaign that would have broad appeal to voters in the general election.