5 Juicy Subplots to Watch for on Election Night in Portland

The primary elections are next Tuesday. Have you voted yet?

By Julia Silverman May 13, 2022

Oregon's primary elections are going to be very, very interesting.

As of Tuesday night, the Oregon primary election of 2022 will be all over but the counting—of ballots, that is. Thanks to a new state law that allows ballots to be postmarked the day of the election, we may not know key results in close races right away. Adding to the uncertainty is a distinct lack of public, independent polling this year. Still, there are some notably juicy subplots to watch this Election Day—so turn in your ballot if you haven’t already (and many of you haven’t; statewide voter turnout was hovering at around a dismal 12 percent as of May 12, below even primary elections in previous years), grab some popcorn, and settle in. 

What will become of Jo Ann Hardesty? 

Between the tight three-way race for the seat currently held by Jo Ann Hardesty on the Portland City Council and that low turnout, it seems likely that no candidate will emerge with the 50-percent-plus-a-hair majority needed to notch an outright win. Which means we’re most likely headed for a November run-off—the question is which two candidates will be going head-to-head? Conventional wisdom fueled by the power of incumbency suggests that the very progressive Hardesty and one of her two opponents, both of whom are running more to the center than she is, will emerge to battle it out. Hardesty swept into office in 2018 on a hopeful tide, part of a national wave of women, many of color, who ran for office in a defiant rebuke to Trumpism. She was the de facto leader of the city during the roiling summer protests of 2020 over police reform and accountability, and has championed the creation of Portland Street Response.

But two years and one pandemic later, voters are in a sour mood given a documented rise in gun violence and more visible homeless encampments, and Hardesty’s advocacy for police reform and long-term affordable housing over a shift to quicker approaches could be sticking points. It's not looking like a great year to be an incumbent, particularly if you've got aggressive opponents who've gained traction. So it's possible that Hardesty will be the one sidelined, leaving challengers Rene Gonzalez (who has earned the support of the Portland Police Association) and Vadim Mozyrsky (who is backed by the Portland Business Alliance) to face each other in November.  

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who will be the Trumpiest of them all?

Speaking of Trump, the former president’s fingerprints have been all over other elections across the country, particularly in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Oregon has been spared this particular bombast, but a handful of candidates for the Republican gubernatorial nomination have been trying to claim his mantle anyway, in hopes of appealing to the die-hard, older and whiter voters who historically make up the bulk of the GOP’s primary electorate. We’re thinking of Stan Pulliam, the mayor of Sandy, in particular, who has said the election results were fraudulent. (This is false.) Others in the race have also jumped headfirst into the culture wars: consider conservative consultant and writer Bridget Barton a few days ago speaking to Fox News, decrying Oregon’s Menstrual Dignity act. Donations and what little polling has come out have suggested that former Republican House Majority Leader Christine Drazan is the one to beat in this race, but never underestimate the Trump effect.

As goes New Jersey? 

A year ago, in an off-year election cycle, gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia drew special scrutiny for any light they could shed on 2022 contests, particularly after a surprise Republican win in Virginia and a closer-than-expected call for the Democratic incumbent in New Jersey. At the time, post-mortem deep dives with Democratic-leaning voters suggested parental frustration with prolonged school closures had driven some of those results. With the reopening of school buildings in September across Oregon, that issue has receded, but the aftereffects of COVID-era restrictions still linger for some voters. Of the two major Democratic candidates in the race, former Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek and State Treasurer Tobias Read, only Read has made education a centerpiece of his campaign. (By contrast, the Oregonian recently observed that Kotek “has not issued any plan for improving students’ educational outcomes.”) It’s not clear whether Read’s focus on education and other livability issues will pay off on Tuesday, but he has been doing his best to tie presumable frontrunner Kotek—who vacuumed up most of the major union endorsements and donations in the race—to the status quo. That’s a potential vulnerability for Kotek, given that Gov. Kate Brown’s approval ratings remain the lowest in the nation.

Who Wants to Buy an Election? 

There has been no shortage of drama about money this election cycle, as per usual in the state with some of the loosest campaign finance laws in the country. On Election Night, we’ll be watching to see if all the cryptocurrency money from billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried was enough to notch a victory in the Democratic primary for Carrick Flynn, his preferred candidate in Oregon’s newest congressional district, which includes Polk and Yamhill Counties, plus portions of Washington, Clackamas, and Marion Counties. It’s safe to say that very few people in the district had heard of Flynn six months ago. Now, thanks to an absolute blizzard of advertising funded by Bankman-Fried—who has an interest in Flynn’s focus on pandemic preparedness—plus a helping hand from the Democratic National Committee, Flynn has emerged as a serious contender, alongside Democratic House Rep. Andrea Salinas.

Money is at play, too, in the Hardesty-Mozyrsky-Gonzalez race, given a PAC funded by real estate and business interests that’s spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Mozyrsky’s behalf, and in the Democratic primary for Oregon’s 5th congressional district, in which incumbent Kurt Schrader is facing a progressive challenger in Jamie McLeod-Skinner. Along with having to introduce himself to a new set of voters in a newly redrawn district, Schrader is releasing a blitz of advertising in the final weeks of the campaign, vastly outspending McLeod-Skinner. But she has picked up support from key Democratic activists on the ground, angry at what they see as Schrader’s steadfast support for the pharmaceutical industry and its crusade to keep the government from regulating the costs of prescription drugs. Schrader has outraised his challenger by a factor of 3:1; his largest donations, as the New Republic recently noted, come from the pharmaceutical industry and other corporate interests. 

The Future (Might Be) Female

This isn’t over after Tuesday night’s results are known, not by a long shot. There’s a general election to look forward to in November. If Kotek and Drazan win, Oregon will have its first all-female slate of gubernatorial hopefuls in its history (amplified by the presence of Democrat-turned-independent gubernatorial hopeful Betsy Johnson, a powerful former state Senator who has been waiting in the wings and racking up campaign donations while she’s at it, including $1 million and counting from Nike founder Phil Knight).

Expect both major party candidates, whomever they might be, to go after Johnson, as she’s got the potential to siphon votes from both parties. There could also be an all-female runoff in the pivotal race for Multnomah County Chair, should none of the current candidates—who include three current members of the county commission—manage to win a majority on Tuesday night.  

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