PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek stated Thursday she is going to give attention to addressing the state’s homelessness disaster and being a pacesetter for all residents, although the race is simply too early to name.
Republican rival Christine Drazan is watching the returns and expects Kotek’s result in be tight.
If she wins, Kotek would turn into the primary brazenly lesbian elected governor within the United States alongside Maura Healey of Massachusetts.
“It’s an absolute honor,” stated Kotek. “I can tell you that being who I am is important to Oregonians across the state. A lot of young people came up to me and said thank you for running and thank you for being the way you are.”
Standing in front of a fountain in Portland, just steps from the Willamette River, Kotek told a crowd of reporters and supporters, who flew their campaign badges by invitation only, that she was ready to get down to business.
She said she plans to travel around Oregon starting in January to speak with community leaders about issues facing the state, particularly the lack of affordable housing and addiction. She said her priorities are tackling homelessness, expanding access to mental health and addiction treatment, and working to bridge divisions in the state.
Kotek told reporters she spoke with Drazan and Johnson, a former state senator who was running as an independent candidate and conceded Tuesday night.
The Drazan campaign spokesman, asking for a response, echoed a statement Wednesday that said, “We proceed to watch the return with the expectation that this race will intensify.”
Tuesday is the last day election officials receive valid postmarked ballots in the mail. In a state with 3 million registered voters, there could still be tens of thousands of uncounted ballots in the mail.
Oregon was the first state to adopt mail-in voting, but the 2022 election is different, as a 2021 law passed by the state legislature allows ballots to be counted if they’re postmarked by 8 p.m. on election day. Previously, votes had to be received by election day.
In 2018, a total of 1,749,486 votes were cast for the Democratic and GOP nominees for governor. As of Thursday noon, Kotek, Drazan and Johnson together had about 180,000 fewer votes.
Like other GOP lawmakers, Drazan opposed the 2021 Postmark Act as it passed through the Legislature.
“Dates are deadlines,” she told a House committee at the time. “I believe it should create some challenges, and I believe it should create some authorized complexity relating to a few of these tight-turnout elections.”
Johnson’s wildcard presence in the race had boosted GOP hopes that they could win an Oregon governor’s race for the first time in 40 years and break Democrats’ dominance of statewide races in Oregon, California and Washington state.
Kotek, Drazan and Johnson, all former MPs, were the frontrunners in the race for the state’s next governor.
Kotek was the senior speaker of the Oregon House. Drazan is a former leader of the Republican minority in the House of Representatives. Democrats were so worried about losing the governorship that President Joe Biden came to Portland to boost Kotek’s chances.
Foreign Minister Shemia Fagan said verifying the results takes time as every signature on every ballot envelope has to be verified.
Democrats warned that a Drazan victory could jeopardize abortion rights, environmental protection and democratic state elections.
Blaming homelessness, crime and inflation on Democrats, Drazan says electing Kotek would be like re-electing Gov. Kate Brown, who was prevented from running again because of term limits.
Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon.