2018 GOP nominee Buehler endorses independent Johnson in governor’s race

Knute Buehler, the 2018 Republican nominee for governor, endorsed Sen. Betsy Johnson, who is running an insurgent independent campaign for governor in 2022.

Johnson’s campaign on Tuesday released a “dear friends” letter Buehler sent to past supporters.

“I am endorsing Betsy Johnson for Governor,” Buehler writes. “Betsy’s plain-spoken, independent spirit and proven record of putting the concerns of everyday Oregonians before partisan politics is exactly what Oregon needs right now.”

The letter ends with a link to Johnson’s campaign fundraising committee.

Buehler said the closed primaries of the Democratic and Republican parties would put candidates on the ballot who represented the most extreme elements of the major parties.

“It is vital that we break the iron grip monopoly of the radical left on power, politics, and policy in our state,” Buehler said of Democrats.

Republicans would likely nominate someone who Buehler believes would have little chance of appealing to most voters in Oregon, which has not elected a Republican as governor since 1982.

“Unfortunately, the Republican Party is no longer a viable alternative in Oregon,” Buehler said.

Buehler, who ran for secretary of state, the legislature, governor and congress as a Republican, re-registered as a “non-affiliated” voter in February. He said then-President Trump’s instigation of a riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 led to his decision.

Johnson’s announced Nov. 8 that she would run as an independent after 21 years in the Legislature as a Democrat. She said it was the best route to give Oregon voters an alternative to a “left-wing liberal” and a “right-wing Trump apologist.”

“Oregonians are ready to move to the middle where sensible solutions are found,” she said.

Johnson’s decision met with immediate disapproval from party leaders.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, stripped her of her co-chairmanship of the powerful Ways & Means Committee, the state’s main budget-writing panel. Johnson remains a registered Democrat and retains her seat in the Senate.

Johnson has consistently been the most moderate of Democrats in the Senate. While backing most of her party’s social issue stances, including support for abortion rights, she has voted with Republicans on issues such as business restrictions, gun rights and limiting carbon emissions. 

Buehler brings a long list of major donors, having raised $19 million in his unsuccessful bid for governor in 2018. Together with incumbent Gov. Kate Brown, who won the election, the two candidates raised nearly $40 million, a record amount for a race for Oregon governor.

Johnson’s campaign, which already leads fundraising for 2021, has raised $2.1 million, including several $100,000 contributions from the timber industry and business owners. She currently has $2.3 million in the bank.

A big question is whether Buehler’s endorsement will help convince Nike founder Phil Knight to back Johnson. He contributed $2.5 million to Buehler’s 2018 campaign.

Knight has not publicly expressed a preference in the 2022 governor’s race. 

The Democratic and Republican nominees will be selected in the May 17, 2022 primary. Johnson then has to submit just over 24,000 valid signatures backing her candidacy to the secretary of state over the early summer to go directly on the Nov. 8 general election.

To read the full article from the Oregon Capital Insider, click here.