SALEM, Ore. — The race for Oregon governor took an unexpected turn Tuesday when the candidate of the state’s third-largest party withdrew and threw his support behind Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
Patrick Starnes of the Independent Party said he backs Brown because she supports campaign finance reform. Starnes had made reform his centerpiece. Brown, who’s facing Republican candidate Knute Buehler, said she was “totally honored and very tickled” by Starnes’ endorsement.
“I’m particularly grateful for Mr. Starnes for endorsing me,” Brown said in a joint telephone interview with Starnes. “I think that will certainly be a final push over the finish line.”
The current race has generated historic levels of contributions. Nike co-founder Phil Knight has donated $2.5 million to Buehler and $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which is supporting Buehler.
The Kate Brown Committee has received almost $10.3 million in cash contributions; the Knute for Governor Committee $13.2 million, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
It’s unclear what effect Starnes’ endorsement of Brown will have. He noted that results of the primary election showed that most Independent Party voters are conservative, with large write-in votes for Buehler and two other Republican candidates who were seeking the GOP nomination.
“I don’t know if that’s going to change how they vote. But if they recognize that campaign finance reform is our first priority, then hopefully they’ll be realistic about their vote and vote for Gov. Brown,” Starnes said.
The Independent Party comprises 4.5 percent of eligible voters in Oregon, and 28,000 of the 125,400 have already cast ballots. In Oregon, ballots are mailed in or left at drop-off sites.
Buehler campaign spokeswoman Monica Wroblewski dismissed the endorsement. “One tax-and-spend liberal endorsing another tax-and-spend liberal should come as no surprise to anyone,” she said.
Polls indicate a tight race between Brown and Buehler.
Explaining why he chose Brown, Starnes said: “Well, you know how close the race is, and with the multi-million-dollar donations from one individual versus the collected donations from many working people, I felt like Gov. Brown was better at getting campaign finance reform across the finish line.”
They both said an amendment to the Oregon Constitution would be required for Oregon to obtain campaign finance limits.
“We’re both committed to amending the Constitution so Oregon is no longer one of the four or five states in the country that have no restrictions on campaign finance,” Brown said.
She said she expects a “groundswell of support” from Oregonians after this election, which broke campaign finance records.