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Drazan has a slight lead in the Republican primary for Oregon governor

Courtesy of Christine Drazan

The Republican primary for governor is too close to call at 8 p.m., according to early returns.

Former House Republican Leader Christine Drazan was running slightly ahead of Bob Tiernan and well ahead of 17 other GOP gubernatorial hopefuls for a spot on the November general election ballot.

“When it comes to the massive number of people who are running in this race, it really is an indication on both sides of the aisle, that Oregon needs change and this is a unique opportunity to make those changes,” said Drazan at her primary night party in Canby, Oregon.

It’s been decades since Oregon had a Republican governor — Gov. Vic Atiyeh last held the job in 1987 — but Republicans have more optimism than usual. With much of the electorate believing the state is headed in the wrong direction, coupled with what is expected to be a midterm election favoring the GOP, many are hopeful this could be the year a Republican takes the state’s highest office.

And party leaders have one more reason to imagine 2022 could be different: Former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson is attempting to gather enough signatures to appear on the November ballot as an unaffiliated candidate for governor. Republicans hope her candidacy could help propel their nominee to Mahonia Hall, the governor’s mansion in Salem, if she siphons enough votes from the Democratic contender.

Out of the 19 Republicans candidates hoping for the job, Drazan was the only one who was elected to the state Legislature this decade. Drazan carved out a reputation as a savvy negotiator, willing to go head-to-head with the Democrats who controlled the Legislature. She led members of her caucus on a walkout to Reno, Nevada, in order to block a climate change bill that was a Democratic priority and she managed, for a short while, to get an equal footing with the Democrats on a redistricting committee.

Drazan is a former executive director of the Cultural Advocacy Coalition, an organization that lobbies on behalf of art, culture, heritage and the humanities, and she also worked in the state Capitol as chief of staff to former Oregon House Speaker Mark Simmons. Drazan grew up in Klamath Falls and was one of several candidates to receive the endorsement of the anti-abortion group Oregon Right to Life. She pulled in more than $2.5 million in contributions.

Tiernan is a former two-term state House member who helped push through several tough-on-crime ballot measures in the 1990s, including Measure 11, which created mandatory sentences for some violent crimes. The Lake Oswego resident was the president and chief operating officer of Grocery Outlet for four years. He fueled his campaign by contributing about $700,000 of his own money. Another $600,000 was donated from the bargain chain outlet he oversaw.

Other top contenders in the GOP field were Salem oncologist Dr. Bud Pierce, Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam, conservative writer Bridget Barton and Medford businesswoman Jessica Gomez.

For the first time in an Oregon primary, a new law allows for ballots to be counted as long as they were postmarked on election day. That could make it more difficult to call a tight race soon. Additionally, some primary ballots in Clackamas County had defective barcodes and needed to be processed differently, possibly drawing out the process for counting votes there.

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Business consultant and former state lawmaker Bob Tiernan is seeking the Republican nomination for Oregon governor.
courtesy of the Bob Tiernan campaign /
Business consultant and former state lawmaker Bob Tiernan.
Oregon State Capitol building, May 18, 2021. The capitol was completed in 1938 and is topped with a gilded bronze statue of the Oregon Pioneer.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Oregon State Capitol building, May 18, 2021. The capitol was completed in 1938 and is topped with a gilded bronze statue of the Oregon Pioneer.

Lauren Dake