Oregon police release chilling video and documents of grocery store shooting

BEND, OR – On a Sunday evening in August, 20-year-old Ethan Miller walked out of his apartment in the city of Bend, Oregon, armed with an AR-15 style rifle, a shotgun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Five minutes later he was inside the Safeway supermarket across the street, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Before taking his own life inside the supermarket, Miller shot a shopper at close range. He also killed a store employee, Donald Surrett Jr., an army veteran who tried to disarm the gunman.

Details of those five minutes of terror in the shopping center were released last week by the Bend Police Department. Utilizing angles from security and ring cameras, a video timeline shows Miller leaving his apartment until the moment he ends the rampage.

A 398-page police document of the incident includes eye-witness interviews of the attack and reports from responding officers. The file also includes testimonies from Miller’s relatives and acquaintances, most of them expressing shock that a person they knew would attempt a mass shooting.

All up, the released information recounts in sometimes graphic detail what occurred in the Forum Shopping Center on August 28, a collection of information local police say was issued to satisfy the dozens of public records requests made after the shooting.

The police video begins with footage from a Ring doorbell camera, showing Miller armed, dressed in black, and walking outside his residence, the Fox Hollow Apartments. Residents of the complex later told police they heard gunshots. The 911 calls start coming in at 7:04 p.m.

Less than a minute later, a surveillance camera captures Miller walking across a parking lot toward the Forum Shopping Center, home to an Old Navy store, a Costco, a Safeway, and a Big Lots, among other businesses.

More shots were fired at 7:05 p.m. in the parking lot, as described by witnesses. At least one driver is injured when the gunman shoots his car, sending shrapnel flying.

Video from inside the Big Lots store shows shoppers ducking in a panic. Witnesses say the shooter was firing his rifle at cars in the parking lot. At 7:06 p.m. the glass doors of Big Lots are blown in from gunfire and a moment later the shooter is seen through the window calmly walking past, rifle in hand.

The manager on duty at Big Lots stated that he heard the gunman yelling at people as he walked past, something to the effect of “You better run you m—-f—--s!”

At that moment, according to police interviews, a shopper named Geoff Wagner was driving in the parking lot in his SUV. Wagner saw the shooter firing at the buildings and cars and wanted to run the shooter over but did not.

The police report also contained receipts that showed Miller had purchased a weapon and ammunition from the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Bend. Two of the receipts were dated from July. One was from August 27, the day before the attack took place.

Next Big Lots is Safeway and the video switches to a view from inside the grocery store. Store workers and shoppers appear panicked, unsure of where to go as they look out the window at the commotion outside. The gunman then approaches the store entrance, causing customers and store workers to flee. It’s 7:07 when the shooter enters the Safeway, his former place of work.

Glenn Bennett, an 84-year-old shopper, and an army vet, walks into the frame just as the gunman enters the store. The gunman opens fire on Bennett, shooting him in the right arm, hip, and thigh. Bennett was conscious when police arrived to help him. They applied a tourniquet before medical staff arrived. He is taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where staff try to save him but are unsuccessful.

Bennett would later be described by friends and relatives as a kind person who had served the U.S. as a medic in the Korean War. He enjoyed walks around Bend and was known for chatting with store workers at a convenience store near his home. During the holidays he enjoyed buying bags of groceries for local food drives, the Bend Bulletin reported.

The shooter would have had no knowledge of the person he had just killed, and carried on through the store. Surveillance video then shows the gunman calmly walking past the registers and then turning into the aisle containing chips and snacks.

The aisle is clear of people but the gunman fires off a few rounds into the food products. He is wearing a tactical vest and a black hat. He fumbles a bit with the shotgun and continues deeper into the store.

The video at this point only shows the gunman walking through the aisles but police reports describe what is happening elsewhere in the store. The smell of gunpowder is thick in the air and gunshots echo through the aisles. Many customers have fled outside but a few people are still in the store, hiding in bathrooms or coolers.

Gary Hansen, a store worker who usually works the dairy section, said when the shooting started he grabbed a wine bottle to use as a weapon and prepared to defend himself. He managed to slip out through a back door. Workers from the meat department also escaped, but not before helping customers exit the building.

Bystander Brett Smith was outside the store locking his bike when he heard gunshots. He ran into the store and made his way to a cooler behind the deli where he waited with three others. Smith held pepper spray in one hand in case the gunman opened the door.

Another customer, Molly Taroli, was inside the store in the frozen food section with her husband Jason Taroli. When the shooting began Jason moved to the front of the store to get a better look, heard more shots, and ordered his wife to the back of the store.

Molly retrieved a 380 semi-automatic pistol from her purse and held it ready as she stood at the rear loading dock. Jason went out the front, retrieved a gun from his pickup, and returned to the store. He helped one customer out of the store but did not reenter because police had arrived on the scene.

A delivery driver named Bill Crumrine was behind the store when he saw people fleeing out of an emergency exit. “The fear on the people’s faces who were running out of the emergency exit was unbelievable,” he later told police. At that moment Crumrine also witnessed police arriving on the scene on foot, he said they were in a “full sprint” headed to the backdoor of the store, rifles in hand.

“It was an overwhelming amount of force and amazing to see,” Crumrine told police.

Meanwhile, back in the store, Miller had reached the meat department. The video changes its angle and a man, later identified as Richard Johnson, is shown falling to the ground behind a cooler.

The shooter spots Johnson and approaches him. The video has no sound but it's clear there is an exchange of words. Johnson later told police what was said. The gunman asked him if he was a Christian, and Johnson replied “I am.” The gunman asked, “why?” Johnson said, “I have no idea but I am.”

The gunman then points his rifle away from the man, shoots the ground, and walks away. He then begins blasting the glass of the meat department with his shotgun. The exchange between the two men lasted less than 10 seconds.

The gunman is then seen walking through the back of the store with Johnson still lying on the ground behind him.

Another camera angle is shown and now Surrett, the 66-year-old army veteran, can be seen crouching behind a small produce cart. He is squatting low between displays of melons and snacks, waiting for the shooter to approach.

At 7:08 p.m., just as the shooter passes him, Surrett emerges from his position and lunges forward with a knife in his hand. Surrett and the gunman are briefly blacked out and the encounter only lasts a few seconds. But police reports explain that Surrett is unable to grab onto the gunman, instead falling to the ground and covering his head with his arms. He is shot twice in the back of the head.

It was a tragic end for the mild-mannered produce clerk now considered a hero for his attempt to stop the gunman who entered his store. He had ample time to flee the building but instead stayed put, in his produce area, waiting for a chance to take down the shooter.

Perhaps, the 26 years he spent in the military as a combat engineer had prepared him for the moment. He had gotten into the military at a young age, enlisting out of high school. His experiences also included working for the U.S. Forest Service at Newberry National Volcanic Monument.

He was remembered fondly by coworkers, who recalled that Surrett would regularly buy stargazer lilies to take home to his wife, according to the Bend Bulletin.

The rifle had fallen to the ground in the scuffle and the shooter left it there, a few feet away from Surrett. Shotgun in hand he then walks another 24 feet into the produce area and sits down.

Another video angle comes into view, showing the produce area and the front door simultaneously. It’s at that moment that two police officers are seen walking into the store, their guns drawn. The time is still 7:08 p.m.

The shooter then turned the gun on himself. The sound of the shotgun blast causes the two police officers to change direction and move toward the produce area where they find both Surrett and the gunman dead. At 5:25 p.m. the following day, funeral home staff arrive to take both bodies away – Surrett through the front door and the gunman from the loading dock in the back.

In the days after the incident, police contacted the family of the shooter. One relative said the gunman had “anger problems” but he believed that part of him was getting under control. Some reports said the shooter had been bullied in middle school and high school. Others said he had bullied others and was quick to pick fights. Boxing, shooting guns and MMA fighting were hobbies.

There was little indication that the incident was coming, but a friend of the gunman said he had received what amounted to a suicide note by text just prior to the attack. By the time the friend reached the Fox Hollow apartments to help it was too late.

A high school friend told police he had gone shooting with the gunman and there were times when he had denounced mass shootings because they “ruined” the gun community. He said he never expected him to go on a shooting rampage.

But shortly after the incident, online posts written by the gunman paint a different picture, revealing his suicidal thoughts and desire to become a school shooter. Because school was not yet in session, and he simply couldn’t wait any longer, he went to the shopping center for his final act.

The online messages revealed relationship problems and an inability to get along with others. He also blamed COVID for keeping him isolated and said society had turned against him, forcing him to react violently.

There was no indication that the gunman sought support or treatment that could have saved him and prevented the attack. Somehow, the shooter was able to keep these thoughts to himself – no one around him, not his friends or family, suspected how he planned to end his life.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. It can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Support is also available from the Crisis Text Line, a texting service for emotional crisis support. Text HELLO to 741741, it’s free, available 24/7 and confidential.

You can watch a report from KTVZ News below:

Bend police release Bend Safeway shooting footage in compliance with public records law youtu.be

West Coast Blue Wall still intact after close race for governor in Oregon

BEND, OR — Outside the Kevista Coffeeshop in this Central Oregon city on the morning after the election, a fresh layer of snow covered the ground, the drifts building around a row of political yard signs supporting Republican candidates.

Inside the cozy shop, voter Matt Bryant bucks the majority voter sentiment in this part of the state, declaring his relief that the Red Wave ended up being more of a ripple in Oregon.

“I am happy to see some of the Democrats have won,” said Bryant, who describes himself as a progressive. “Republicans in my opinion don’t have any policies that try to help actual people.”

Bryant, 44, lives in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, which may go red as Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer is leading Democrat Jaime McLeod-Skinner in a tight race. But he’s glad the Governor’s Mansion will remain occupied by a Democrat. Tina Kotek beat Republican Christine Drazan in a close race for governor, the Associated Press declaring her the winner late on Thursday.

As of Thursday evening, Kotek had 47.1% of the vote compared to Drazan’s 43.5%, with 86% of the votes counted. Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, a former Democrat who tried to run a middle-of-the-road campaign, saying she would take the best ideas from both parties, won 8.6% of the vote.

The results have been somewhat slow to come this year because ballots can still be counted if they were postmarked by 8 p.m. on election day, per the state’s vote-by-mail system. In previous elections, ballots had to be received on election day.

Although not all races have been finalized, the results in Oregon and nationwide were surprising, said David Bernell, an Oregon State University professor of political science.

“The Democrats outperformed expectations,” said Bernell. “They bucked what is one of the few solid predictions people can make in politics — the law of political gravity that says that the party in the White House tends to lose pretty significantly in the midterm elections, especially in the second year of a new president.”

In the Oregon gubernatorial race, it was Johnson’s campaign, and her surprisingly high poll numbers during the race, that attracted attention over the summer and into late fall.

A month before the election, Johnson held 20% voter support, according to polls. Democrats worried she would play the role of the spoiler, pulling votes away from Kotek, who was in a dead heat with Drazan. For much of the past month, it looked like Drazan — a former leader of the Republican minority in the Oregon House — had a chance to be the first Republican elected governor of Oregon in 40 years.

The tie going into November prompted President Biden to make a campaign appearance with Kotek in Portland.

All three candidates had amassed large war chests to sway voters on hot button issues, which in Oregon focussed squarely on inflation, crime, homelessness, abortion rights, and access to guns.

The total funds spent reached nearly $69 million, a record for an Oregon governor’s race. Kotek led the funding spree, raising $29.4 million, followed by Drazan’s $22.5 million and Johnson’s $17.5 million. Their coffers overflowing, voters were subjected to relentless political attack ads, which painted Drazen as a far right extremist and Kotek as a reason for Oregon crime and housing woes.

The dynamics of the race changed in the final few weeks, said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University, as voters gravitated toward the mainstream candidates.

“Betsy Johnson turned into a regular third-party candidate, taking a bit more from Kotek than Drazan, but not having a tremendous impact at less than 9% of the vote,” said Moore.

Kotek’s victory keeps the West Coast “Big Blue Wall” intact. She takes the reins from Kate Brown, who served since 2015 but could not run again due to term limits.

During her term in office, Brown had forged an alliance with fellow West Coast Democrat governors – including California’s Gavin Newsom, and Washington’s Jay Inslee – to cooperate on COVID lockdowns, climate change regulations, abortion access, and other issues of regional and national importance.

On Tuesday Newsom beat back a challenge from Republican challenger Brian Dahle. Inslee’s term as Washington governor ends in 2025.

Kotek, the longest-serving Speaker of the House in the Oregon state legislature, is eager to show that she is different from Kate Brown, ranked in some polls as America’s least popular governor. She campaigned on a platform of distancing herself from Brown and has vowed to deal with Oregon’s homeless crisis and rising urban crime, two problems that festered under Brown’s leadership.

She has also promised to address the state’s housing shortage and affordability. As Speaker, she helped pass legislation that allowed some cities to increase their housing stock by building more duplexes and triplexes. She also passed statewide bills on rent control.

And while it hasn’t figured as a talking point in Oregon, Kotek makes history as America’s first out lesbian elected governor along with Maura Healey, the newly elected governor in Massachusettes. Kotek is married to Aimee Wilson, a social worker.

Down the road from the Kevista coffee shop, at a McDonald’s restaurant, 34-year-old Michael Hagert was having breakfast alone during the chilly post-election morning. Hagert, a Walmart greeter in Bend, does not belong to a political party and said he votes for whoever he thinks will do the best job. This time he gave his vote to Drazan.

“I didn’t really care for Kotek, I think (Drazan) was a better person,” said Hagert, a native of Medford in southern Oregon.

But Hagert isn’t surprised that Kotek won, he’s lived in Oregon most his life and watched the state change, getting bluer each election cycle. While saying “hello” to folks walking through the door at Walmart he can tell there is a demographic shift going on in the Beaver State.

“A lot of people are moving here from California and other states, the East Coast, everywhere, they bring their politics. It’s becoming more Democrat, it’s not surprising it’s Kotek (winning).”

Beyond the governor’s race, slavery was also on the ballot in Oregon, with Measure 112 asking voters if they want to remove constitutional language allowing for slavery and involuntary servitude when used as a punishment for a crime. While the measure passed 56% to 44%, Moore was surprised more than 740,000 people voted against the measure.

“In other states where this passed, it was not even close, 80-20 or 70-30. I fear the result will just contribute to the narrative about deep-seated and unacknowledged racism in Oregon,” said Moore.

Measure 114, which calls for stricter firearms regulations, is too close to call but was leaning “yes” with 51% wanting to adopt the measure, and 86% of the votes counted as of Thursday. If passed, the measure will make Oregon one of the most difficult places to purchase a firearm, an unusual twist in a state where “Ore-gun” bumper stickers are a common sight in rural areas.

The new rules for buying a gun include submitting fingerprints, taking a safety course, passing a background check, and paying a fee before the individual can obtain a five-year permit for all gun purchases. In addition, the sale of high-capacity magazines, which contain 10 or more rounds, is banned. Bryant at the coffee shop voted to support the measure.

“Go to a gun range if you want to shoot off a large clip. But you don’t need a 30-round clip to defend your house, there is no army coming to get you,” he said.

NRA supporters call it the nation’s most extreme gun control initiative. Supporters say it will save lives. Political watchers say both sides could politicize the issue.

“Measure 114 will probably give a shot in the arm to advocates of greater gun control, showing them a pathway to get stronger restrictions in place,” said Bernell, the OSU political science professor.

“It will certainly galvanize the pro-gun advocates and the GOP to strengthen their efforts, as they have a real example of the quote-unquote, liberals coming to take your guns away,” he added.

Controversy over the law is unlikely to go away. At least one sheriff in Oregon has already declared she will not enforce at least one part of the law.

Linn County Sheriff Michelle Duncan declared on Facebook the day after the election that the measure was “poorly written” and “a terrible law for gun owners, crime victims, and public safety." She declared that she would not enforce the limit on magazine capacity. Passage of the law will result in a lawsuit, she added.

In other key Oregon races, the state’s senior U.S. senator, Democrat Ron Wyden easily defeated Jo Rae Perkins, 56% to 41%. Perkins has a background in the financial services industry but had never held an elected office.

Perkins denies the 2020 election results, has voiced support for QAnon conspiracy theorists, opposes abortion for any reason, and opposed mask and vaccine mandates during the pandemic. But she received little backing from her own party, raising just $92,000, a fraction compared to Wyden's $13.8 million war chest.

In congressional races. Democrat Andrea Salinas is leading her Republican rival Mike Erickson in a close race in Oregon’s newly created 6th Congressional District, awarded to Oregon because of population growth reflected in the 2020 census. The new district is one of the most diverse in the state, including both rural areas that support agriculture and timber, as well as urban areas with mixed demographics.

In the 5th Congressional District race, current leader Lori Chavez-DeRemer is a former mayor of Happy Valley, a Portland suburb with a population of around 24,000. If she hangs on to win, Chavez-DeRemer will have flipped the seat out of Democrat’s hands — it had been held by Democrat Congressman Kurt Schrader since 2009 until he was ousted by McLeod-Skinner in the May primary.

If DeRemer and Salinas are declared winners, they will be the first Latinx community members to represent Oregon in Congress.

Moore says that the proportion of registered Democrats to Republicans in Oregon is around 60% to 40% and the state’s congressional delegation should vaguely reflect that. The results of this year’s election could make the delegation go from 80% Democrat and 20% Republican to 67% Democrat and 33% Republican.

“Pretty close to the partisan breakdown in the entire state,” said Moore.

The closeness of the gubernatorial race and the 5th and 6th congressional district races shows that Oregon is more purple than most people realize, he said.

“It has always been purple but that is now more obvious to national observers who have not really looked carefully at Oregon politics as we reliably voted for Democrats for statewide office and our congressional delegation,” said Moore.

Other states could take a close look at the results of the election in Oregon to get a clear read on the direction the country is taking.

“We will simply be part of the tea leaves that prognosticators use to look at the 2024 presidential election,” said Moore. “Democrats hanging onto overwhelming control gives them hope that the 2024 battles will take place in Republican states, not defensively in Democratic states.”

Back at the Kevista Coffee Shop in Bend, the progressive voter Bryant takes another sip of coffee and laments that he could not withhold his vote from Democrats as a way to protest both mainstream parties.

In the end, he supported Kotek and other Democrats to try to prevent any Republican candidate from winning. “The majority of them believe in complete and utter nonsense,” he said of Republican candidates. He believes that most people who vote Republican have been misled by politicians and “crazy” election deniers.

“Republican leaders are not looking out for people’s best interests, they are looking out for corporate interests, for their own interests,” said Byant. “Democrats can be the same sometimes but for the most part they are going to try to help people.”

The Oregon GOP hasn't pulled this off since Ronald Reagan was in office

The last time Oregon had a Republican governor, Reagan was in office and the original Top Gun was in theaters. This year polling indicates the GOP could finally break their 35-year losing streak with Republican newcomer Christine Drazan holding a slight lead over Democrat Tina Kotek with a month before the election.

Whichever candidate prevails in November, governing Oregon is viewed as an increasingly difficult job in the politically charged and divided Beaver state.

Violent crime and homelessness increased during the pandemic years in Oregon, especially in Portland, where tent camps have become a fixture. The state also suffers from drought and water shortages. Illegal drug use has reached epidemic proportions. There was even a short-lived attempt by counties in southeastern Oregon to join Idaho.

Gender isn’t an issue for voters when they decide who is best to deal with these and other problems – the three remaining top candidates are all women, making this election somewhat unique for its lack of male candidates. Polling remains tight and Ballotpedia says Oregon is one of the top four watched races for governor in the country along with Kansas, Arizona, and Nevada.

Early October polling reported by FiveThirtyEight website has Drazan at 34% to Kotek’s 32.9%. The Republican is pulling away from Kotek after polling in September showed Kotek ahead by three points. Johnson trails at 19.5% and is losing ground to Drazen. The poll was conducted by Emerson College and has a plus or minus 3% margin of error.

The tight race has prompted donors to step up and open up their purse strings to a tune of $45 million, making this Oregon’s most expensive election in state history, and there’s still a month of fundraising to go.

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Billionaire Nike co-founder Phil Knight has been the largest private donor, dropping $3.75 million into Johnson’s bucket and recently giving another $1 million to Drazan. Johnson has also received large donations from lumber mills and heavy equipment companies. All up, Johnson has raised $16.5 million, outpacing Kotek’s $14.9 million and Drazan’s $13.9 million, according to The Oregonian.

Gov. Kate Brown cannot run again due to term limits but her least popular policy decisions and low approval ratings – intelligence firm Morning Consult declared her the least popular governor in the U.S. – have been fodder for Republicans to attack Kotek and other Democrats.

Brown was mentioned repeatedly in a late September gubernatorial debate held in left-leaning Bend. There was a telling moment around 10 minutes into the debate when Johnson turned to Kotek and asked why she did not oppose Brown’s decision to release nearly 1,000 “dangerous, violent offenders” onto the streets in the early months of the pandemic. Five seconds of awkward silence ensued as Kotek avoided the question before Drazan changed the subject.

In other instances where Kotek has been lumped with the current governor, she has pushed back, trying to distance herself from her Democrat ally in Salem. That moment came during a portion of the Bend debate where the candidates discussed school closures during the pandemic.

“I did not agree with the governor, having teachers vaccinated, but then not getting schools open,” said Kotek. But all three of us were in the legislature, all three of us had influence on the governor, and yet it was the governor who made these decisions.”

But Brown’s dark cloud over the Democrats is not Kotek’s only problem in this race. Johnson – a former Democrat who is supports abortion rights – is pulling votes away from Kotek’s base.

Johnson’s campaign has been boosted with endorsements by state and national leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as independents. Knute Buehler, who ran against Brown as a republican in 2018, has come out for Johnson. She has also received support from Andrew Yang and former Democrat governor of Oregon Ted Kulongoski.

In campaign advertising, Johnson has tried to portray her rivals as “too extreme” for Oregon and herself as a sort of Goldilocks candidate that can cross party lines and end feuding between Democrats and Republicans. She’s pro-life but also defends the Second Amendment.

“That is the premise of my campaign, to bring the best ideas from both parties and make sure we can implement practical solutions to our most difficult problems,” Johnson said at the Bend debate. “An independent governor with no agenda, beholden to nobody, is the right person to lead that effort.”

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In late August, Bend was witness to gun violence in the form of an attempted mass shooting at a Safeway that left two victims dead. When the tragedy came up in the Bend debate, Johnson said she supports a stronger background check system and raising the age of buying semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21. But she is also against Oregon Ballot Measure 114, which requires safety training to acquire a firearm and prohibits certain magazines.

The 71-year-old also owns a machine gun, which could be a little hard to swallow for some Democrat voters. That admission earned her the nickname “Machine Gun Betsy” by local media.

“Johnson is trying to do something that is very difficult in this more-partisan time — assert that there is a middle between the Republicans and the Democrats,” said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University.

Abortion is one of the few issues where she lines up with Kotek, and the pair have tried to use the Dobbs decision against Republicans. Abortion is legal in Oregon and Drazan says she intends to uphold the current law if she wins, but Kotek warned voters to be wary of her position.

“A governor can do a lot of damage even if there is a law on the books. Stopping agencies, not being a champion, not moving resources to help Oregonians, so you cannot trust that statement,” she said.

While most Oregonians would line up behind Kotek on abortion, the national political mood has become a drain, with Biden’s unpopularity hurting any Democrat up for election and the tendency in the midterms to vote against the party in the White House. Moore, the political science professor, adds that Trump-inspired challenges to the legitimacy of government are also at work against Democrats in Oregon.

“In terms of issues, we may finally be seeing the main Republican campaign theme of the past 20 years actually work to move voters — Democrats have been in charge too long and the state has suffered for it. This theme did not lead to victory from 2002 to 2018. Maybe 2022 is the year for it,” Moore said.

While the political winds blow against Democrats — and voters align with issues that matter most to them — the candidate’s personal stories and personalities could still be a wild card in the race.

Johnson portrays herself as a jack-of-all-trades, a pilot, a seasoned politician, a small business owner, and a recipient of an ‘A’ rating from the NRA. She’s traveled far beyond Oregon’s borders, representing the U.S. in helicopter competitions in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

She hails from Central Oregon where her father was a lumberman before serving in the state legislature. She makes no apologies for her gruff demeanor and sometimes crass manner of speaking, recently describing Portland as a “city of roaches.”

Kotek isn’t from Oregon, often a detriment to politicians seeking office here, but she’s made up for that by planting strong roots in the state. She grew up in York County, a Republican corner of Pennsylvania, and attended Georgetown University for two years, then looked West and moved to Oregon where she finished her undergraduate degree in religious studies at the University of Oregon in the late 1980s.

Kotek came out as a lesbian in her early 20s years, a decision she describes as liberating. While she makes little of it in her campaign, a victory would make her America’s first lesbian governor. Married for five years to spouse Aimee Wilson, a social worker, her sexual orientation could help motivate LGBTQ+ votes on both sides of the aisle.

Kotek prides herself on humble beginnings and her hands-on, pre-political work at the Oregon Food Bank. She describes glowingly her fight to reduce food insecurity, including pushes for a strong minimum wage, housing assistance and access to health insurance. She still regularly volunteers at her church pantry. Kotek also pushes for legislation to fight climate change while her rivals veer towards business interests over carbon emissions.

Kotek’s negative ads against her opponents have attempted to portray them as too right-wing for liberal Oregon. In one TV ad, she attempts to link Drazan to far-right extremists who stormed the U.S. Capitol in the Jan. 6 insurrection. There has been no evidence that Drazan supports the right-wing fringe and she hasn’t claimed Democrats stole the election from Trump, at least not in Oregon.

Moore said Kotek has done a reasonably good job during this campaign of telling voters how she plans to fix homelessness and how she’ll do a better job than Brown but adds that she has been preaching to the choir.

“Her main message is to Democrats but there are more registered unaffiliated voters than Democrats right now. Even with lower turnout rates, we can expect about 600,000 to 650,000 unaffiliated votes,” said Moore. “Kotek needs to speak to them, not just assume they will respond to Democratic campaign themes.”

While Kotek and Johnson are both familiar to Oregon voters, Drazan is newer on the stage and has less political baggage. She touts herself as a “small town girl from Klamath Falls” in southern Oregon, raised by a stay-at-home mom and a mill worker dad. She’s a mother of three and most recently spent two years as the Oregon House Republican leader, elected to the state legislature in 2018.

If elected, Drazan said she will crack down on lawlessness, especially in Portland, where the homicide rate in 2021 was 13.5 per 100,000 people – double the nationwide rate. Drazan said she will send in state police to quell violence if Portland police are unable to do so.

“If Portland leaders do not step in, specifically around riots, specifically around unrest that engages around property damage and criminal activity. If Portland leaders don’t step in and resolve that, I as governor will.” she told local TV in Portland. “We have got to get serious about public safety.”

Drazan’s time in the legislature was notable for leading repeated walk-outs by Republicans in order to stall legislation by preventing a quorum, which is two-thirds of the legislative body. Over the course of ten months, Republicans vanished multiple times to prevent the passage of bills on issues ranging from guns to climate change.

Republicans only ended the walkouts after negotiating a deal with Democrats that gave them a greater say in the House Redistricting Committee, partly responsible for redrawing political maps.

David Bernell, an associate professor at the School of Public Policy at Oregon State University says that while Drazan may not be a headline-grabbing candidate she is doing enough to stay in the race, while also not putting her campaign in jeopardy by lining up with fringe elements of the Republican party.

“I don't think she is a weak candidate for governor as you see in other parts of the country,” Bernell says. “For example in Pennsylvania, where the candidate for governor is right-wing, associated with Trump and the MAGA movement, and denying the results of the presidential election. I don’t think Christine Drazan has that kind of weakness attached to her.”

Drazan mutes her ties to Trump but she has appeared with his more extreme supporters. At a Drazan campaign event at Smith Rock in early September, far-right militia organizer BJ Soper took to the stage and declared that his People’s Right group will defend themselves and their movement physically “if all else fails.”

“Some portion of Republicans will rally behind the candidate with an (R) behind their name, no matter what,” said Eric Lint, a political consultant in Central Oregon. “That's what BJ Soper called his followers to do at Smith Rock.”

Lint said turnout matters in this election and low turnout will hurt Kotek while Drazan’s success so far stems from a loyal base.

“Drazan's narrow lead appears to be more a reflection of demographics than a result of persuasion,” said Lint. “Like Trump in the 2016 primaries, a solid base of support in a crowded field gives a strong position.”

If Drazan does become governor, she will be leading a state that has a Democrat supermajority in the House of Representatives. Moore thinks Drazan will need to become an astute bridge builder with Democrats to govern with any impact.

“Drazan’s very short history in the legislature featured quite a few walkouts – she can’t do that as governor,” said Moore.

Into the final month of campaigning, Bernell said he will be watching to see if Johnson supporters – realizing they are giving their vote to a spoiler – may continue their departure from Johnson’s camp and go back to Kotek or Drazan. Such a scenario would probably benefit Kotek in the long run, he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see some small movement -- more likely for Kotek -- if people see they might be casting their vote for a spoiler,” he added. “Betsy Johnson is likely to be taking more votes from Kotek than Drazan. But who knows how people are going to react.”