Biden said A third-party challenger is pulling more support from Democrats

Biden said A third-party challenger is pulling more support from Democrats
7 min read
13 October 2022

Joe Biden’s appearance this week on the campaign trail in Oregon says as much about Democrats’ struggles in the reliable blue state as it does about his own careful approach to the midterms.

Biden advisers and close political allies are worried about a confluence of factors that threaten to flip the open contest for governor in the state. A third-party challenger is pulling more support from Democrats than the GOP; four contested congressional races, including one over the border in Washington state, have resulted in a barrage of Republican TV ad attacks; and the uneven economic recovery and spiraling quality of life concerns around homelessness and crime are weighing on voters.

Biden said A third-party challenger is pulling more support from Democrats

Oregon is suddenly in jeopardy, and Joe Biden wants to help

“It’s just a tough year for us,” a Biden ally conceded.

That’s compelled Biden to do something rare for him so far this cycle: headline a grassroots volunteer event with Democrats.

The president’s midterm travel schedule so far this year has been sparse, consisting largely of raising cash for Democrats and setting up big-picture themes for the party, while mostly campaigning closer to home. He has, however, stood beside candidates at official events touting policy and appeared with a number of gubernatorial candidates since the summer, including Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Pennsylvania state Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Maryland’s Wes Moore, who could be the state’s first — and nation’s only — Black governor next year.

Now, hoping to avoid a devastating loss in a Democratic enclave, and with polls showing a dead heat for the governorship, the White House approached former Oregon state House Speaker Tina Kotek to arrange the presidential visit in support of her campaign.

“Suddenly, everyone figured out we have a real governor’s race out here,” said Jake Weigler, an Oregon Democratic strategist not involved in the contest. “People are waking up and thinking that losing could actually happen.”

Once on the ground in Oregon, a Biden adviser said he was expected to focus on kitchen table contrasts between Democrats trying to protect and expand health care and the social safety net and Republicans intent on dismantling it. The adviser said Biden world takes some solace in the fact that Oregon has close gubernatorial elections and believes that the hurdles facing Kotek can be overcome, mainly that the money her challengers have thrown at her won’t match the issue set that aligns her more closely with statewide voters: cutting prescription drug costs and backing paid sick leave.

A bit of recent history will linger over him too. Biden’s stumping in the state comes almost exactly a dozen years after then-President Barack Obama — whose approval numbers at the time also hovered in the low- to -mid-40s — touched down in Portland for a huge get-out-the-vote rally for the Democratic nominee for governor at the time. John Kitzhaber, a well-known figure who served two terms in the office from 1995 to 2003, won by fewer than 2 percentage points that year.

Biden last stopped in Oregon in April to tout the massive infrastructure package, along with headlining a fundraiser for Democrats at the Portland Yacht Club on the Columbia River. Two days later, he endorsed Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), who lost his bid for an eighth term in the state’s May primary.

Now, Biden’s return trip West thrusts him into a race that is arguably one of the most competitive statewide contests this year — and one that both parties concede gives the GOP an opportunity to regain a foothold along the Pacific coastline, where there is currently no statewide elected Republican serving in the lower 48.

“Whenever the president shows up, it wakes people up. They know it’s an election,” Kotek told a reporter from KATU-TV. “Just for enthusiasm, I think it’s great.”

Kotek’s Republican opponent, Christine Drazan, released a statement on the news of Biden’s visit contending “the D.C. political class is in full panic mode.”

Oregon has not elected a Republican governor since 1982, but the state has seen a number of close contests in recent years. Gov. Kate Brown, the term-limited incumbent who has seen her approval numbers sag to among the nation’s lowest, just narrowly cleared 50 percent in both the 2016 special election and 2018 general election. On the eve of the last gubernatorial election, some forecasters had the race between Brown and Knute Buehler listed as a toss-up.

None compare to the electoral circus unfolding this year, mostly because of the presence of Betsy Johnson, a former Democratic state senator turned independent who has been running a well-funded campaign. Kotek and Drazan, a legislative leader and longtime state Capitol veteran, have been battling in the few public polls — generally deadlocked in the low-to-mid thirties — with Johnson in the high teens to low 20s.

Both Kotek and Drazan have competed to try to tie Johnson to the other, with Drazan often selling her opponents and the outgoing governor as a three-headed-monster of sorts, and Kotek attacking Drazan and Johnson over gun control and abortion rights in the state. As the race has settled into this margin-of-error deadlock, the general consensus has been that Johnson is pulling more from Kotek than she is from Drazan.

“If this was reversed and you had two Republicans running, we’d be pretty panicked that one of them is going to pull from the other,” said Greg Walden, a former Republican congressman from the state. “And I think in the end, Betsy [Johnson] probably pulls more from moderate Democrats than Republicans. And that helps [Drazan].”

“Betsy Johnson is acting as a spoiler,” echoed An Do, the executive director of the state’s Planned Parenthood chapter, in a news conference organized by the Kotek campaign. “If Christine Drazan wins this November … it is because of two things: Betsy Johnson splitting the vote, and because of conservative special interests seizing the moment.”

Biden’s visit comes at a critical point in the race in the state. Next week, state election officials are scheduled to send out mail ballots to all of the state’s registered voters, and the three candidates will also meet for their final debate in Portland on Wednesday.

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luarleor 0
im journalist for politics and news
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