Governor candidates

Republican Christine Drazan, left, and Democrat Tina Kotek are locked in a tight race at the close of voting Nov. 8, 2022

The historic three-way race for Oregon governor will come down to a choice between Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan.

Kotek and Drazan were separated by less two percentage point with 47% of ballots - just under 1.4 million - counted just before midnight.

The count showed Kotek leading 45.95% to 44.43% for Drazan. 

Kotek jumped out to an early lead following the close of voting at 8 p.m. The first batch of votes included a large number reported in Democratic strongholds of Multnomah and Washington counties, giving Kotek a 5% lead, which tightened as more counties reported results. 

Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson had 8.8% of the vote and conceded just before 9 p.m. in a speech to supporters at the Columbia County Fairgrounds in St. Helens.

"It's more fun to win than to lose," she said.

Johnson said the effort was worth it, nonetheless. 

"I knew the odds were very long and I didn't care," she said.

Because of a new law in Oregon, ballots that are postmarked on or before Nov. 8 can be counted until Nov. 15 if received by county clerks. With the close races, the final outcome might not be known for days or even next week.

The race has generated a record-shattering $65 million in contributions, with the final numbers likely to top $70 million.

A Republican was last elected governor in 1982, when Vic Atiyeh won a second term. Democrats have won every race since, though sometimes by tight margins.

Johnson had sought to become just the second governor elected without a major party endorsement. Julius Meier was elected to one term in 1930.

The May Republican primary victory by Drazan in a 19-candidate field gave the GOP a nominee who was the party's minority leader in the Oregon House before stepping down to run for governor. Her campaign attracted major campaign donations for national Republican groups.

After early polls that showed Johnson with as much as 27% of the vote, her recent showings dropped into single digits. She received $3.75 million in contributions from Nike co-founder Phil Knight through early September. But Knight switched to backing Drazan, giving her $1 million in October.

Knight's switch signaled Johnson's diminished role in the campaign, with many of her supporters switching to Kotek or Drazan in the final days, according to polling.

The governor's election was an extension of a bitter 2021 fight between Kotek, the longest serving House speaker, and Drazan, a former legislative staffer who had won the internal GOP caucus vote as minority leader with a promise to take a more aggressive stance against Kotek's rule in the House.

Drazan used a parliamentary quirk to significantly slow legislation during the 2021 regular session. Kotek eventually made a deal with Drazan to give Republicans an equal say in redistricting for congressional districts in exchange for speeding up the pace on passing bills.

But when it came time for the September special session to pass redistricting maps, members had to first pass new rules and committee assignments since the session was distinct from the regular session.

The Democratic House majority created a congressional committee for redistricting that gave Democrats the majority voice.

Kotek said she was forced to make the move because of concerns Drazan would stall redistricting, which had already been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Drazan denounced Kotek for reneging on the compromise that had allowed Democrats to move their agenda without further GOP-led delays.

Drazan attempted unsuccessfully to have her censured by the House.

Both soon resigned from the legislature to run for governor.

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