UPDATE (Wednesday, May 20, 7:32 a.m. PT) — State Sen. Mark Hass was leading the Democratic primary for secretary of state late Tuesday, but by Wednesday morning, the race had narrowed significantly between Hass and state Sen. Shemia Fagan.
With votes still being tallied, Hass holds roughly 35.96% of the vote in the three-way contest. Fagan is closely trailing Hass with 35.32% of the vote.
The third candidate in the race, attorney and consultant Jamie McLeod-Skinner, trailed with 27.95% of the vote.
Told by phone that The Oregonian had called the race Tuesday night in his favor, Hass initially declined to accept that finality.
"We're just not there yet," he said. "It's just too close to call."
Whichever candidate emerges from the tight race will go up against Republican state Sen. Kim Thatcher of Keizer, in the November general election. As expected, Thatcher handily won her party’s nomination Tuesday. She faced only token opposition.
Secretary of state is currently the only statewide office held by a Republican; Dennis Richardson won the seat in 2016 but died while in office. His replacement, Bev Clarno, promised not to seek election to a full term when she was appointed.
Thatcher was already looking toward the November general election Tuesday night.
"Just trying to get the word out to voters, that's always the challenge," she said. "It was harder to do this time because I wasn't in a contested primary. So it's kind of getting over the head start on the other side."
Far more competitive was the Democratic race, which saw three viable candidates bringing similar ideas to the race, but touting distinct skill sets they said would make them most effective overseeing elections, conducting audits, and overseeing audits and business registration in the state.
Hass, who has served in Salem for nearly two decades, pitched himself to voters as a steady hand who had helped see the state through past economic crises. He has pledged to bring a new emphasis on election security to the state and wants Oregon to experiment with a ranked-choice voting system in which voters can choose multiple candidates in order of preference.
Fagan entered the race less than three months before the primary, but quickly saw huge amounts of financial support from the state’s largest labor unions and amassed a broad coalition of support that included environmental and pro-choice groups. Even if she does not win Tuesday's primary, she will remain in the Senate with two years left to serve on her term.
McLeod-Skinner hinged her candidacy partly on rejecting corporate support and limiting large donations, instead appealing to Democrats in rural Oregon who feel their voices haven’t been heard in Salem. But in the coronavirus pandemic, the candidate could not muster the statewide meet-and-greets with voters that lent potency to her 2018 challenge of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden.
Hass said Tuesday night that his focus on policy had made a difference, despite spending imbalances in the race.
"We just always knew it was going to be close, just because of the dynamics of the campaign," he said. "I think what I was hoping for is playing out: People are attracted to policies, proposals and ideas, and that's what I led with. I don't think that people were voting for me as much as they were voting for new ideas and new proposals."
In the Republican race, Thatcher was a somewhat reluctant candidate who announced her intentions to run only after no one else in her party showed interest.
But in the months since that early February announcement, Thatcher grew to embrace her role. A 15-year lawmaker and business owner, Thatcher says she’s well suited to guide the secretary of state’s office through the economic difficulties caused by the pandemic. She specifically notes the office’s role in registering businesses as a place where she can be helpful.
“We need someone who can quickly get up to speed on what needs to be done in the office,” she said in April. “I qualify there.”
Thatcher’s opponent in the race was Dave Stauffer, a musician and inventor who has run for governor as both a Democrat and Republican.