Democrat Tina Kotek is projected to win the Oregon governor’s race, meaning Democrats across the state are breathing audible sighs of relief after Republicans nearly won this seat for the first time in decades.
Kotek, a 15-year former state legislator and House speaker, also makes history with her win: she just became one of the nation’s first two openly lesbian governors, along with Massachusetts Democratic Gov.-elect Maura Healey.
Kotek defeated Republican Christine Drazan, who she’d been in a dead heat with for weeks. Kotek also defeated independent Betsy Johnson.
Oregon has elected Democratic governors since 1986. But this race became one of the most closely watched in the nation when election analysts ranked it as a toss-up, due largely to Johnson’s influence as a well-funded independent and a potential spoiler.
Johnson, who served in the state Legislature as a Democrat for 20 years before running for governor, had been polling far below Kotek and Drazan. But the whopping $3.75 million she received from Oregon billionaire Phil Knight, a founder of Nike, helped keep her in the race and allowed her to siphon votes away from Kotek.
In the final weeks of the election, as Kotek and Drazan became effectively tied, Knight shifted his support to the Republican, giving her campaign $1 million.
Prominent national Democrats parachuted into Oregon last month to give Kotek an eleventh-hour boost. President Joe Biden headlined a Portland reception for her in mid-October, and later in the month Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) shared the stage with her. Meanwhile, former President Barack Obama cut a video in support of Kotek’s campaign.
All three gubernatorial candidates were vying for the seat currently held by Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who is term-limited out this year.
The trio all came from the state House, too. Drazan had a much shorter tenure than Kotek and Johnson, serving in the chamber from 2019 to 2022. She was also the minority leader.
Kotek focused her campaign on her legislative wins, including raising Oregon’s minimum wage and setting up the state for 100% clean electricity, and on her policy plans around housing and climate change. She and Drazan were a study in contrasts. Kotek is a vocal supporter of abortion rights and gun safety; Drazan was endorsed by the anti-abortion group Oregon Right to Life and received an A rating from the National Rifle Association.
“The people most intent on getting Christine Drazan elected are beholden to Donald Trump and will keep peddling his dangerous rhetoric,” Kotek said at a Monday campaign event. “As our next governor. I will always stand up to extremism and fight for Oregon families.”