SALEM — Half of Oregonians view Gov. Kate Brown unfavorably yet would reelect her by a narrow margin if the election was conducted now, according to an online survey by pollster Nashville-based icitizen.
Forty percent said they would vote for Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, to unseat the first-term governor, the survey shows.
The survey of 645 respondents, paid for by icitizen, is the first glimpse into the mindset of Oregonians more than a year before the November 2018 gubernatorial election.
Jim Moore, director of the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation at Pacific University, said the responses to Brown are unsurprising.
“While she is a fairly popular governor, she hasn’t really done anything to put her name on,” Moore said.
“Clearly, this is a message for her campaign to communicate what she has done that makes her worthy to be governor again.”
The respondents - part of a “convenience panel” of Oregonians icitizen uses for online polls – were not confirmed as registered voters, said Cynthia Villacis, the company’s polling director.
Favorable opinions for Brown were stronger in the Portland Metro area and the Willamette Valley, 45 percent and 55 percent, respectively. In the rest of the state, only 37 percent of respondents said they had a favorable opinion of her, while 62 percent gave unfavorable feedback.
Leslie Rich, a senior vice president of client services, said the results are weighted to reflect the state’s electorate makeup of different party affiliations.
Political pundits see the results as a bad sign for the Republican challenger, an orthopedic surgeon who was elected as a state representative in 2014. Buehler also challenged Brown in 2012 for her then position as Oregon secretary of state.
When Oregonians were asked their preferred Republican to face off with Brown, a majority chose a Republican who hasn’t even filed as a candidate and has had no media attention.
About 31 percent of respondents said Greg Wooldridge, a former commander of the Navy’s Blue Angels, is their preferred GOP candidate. Meanwhile, only 28 percent identified Buehler as their preferred choice.
Wooldridge is familiar to conservative circles, where he has served as a delegate to the National Republican Convention, but is lesser known outside of his party.
Wooldridge is considering a bid for the Republican nomination and has met with several former gubernatorial candidates and political consultants. He would run as a conservative alternate to Buehler’s more moderate platform, said one political strategist.
Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez DeRemer, who is still exploring a gubernatorial bid, was named by 8 percent of respondents. Another 6 percent gave names of “other” candidates, and 26 percent said they are undecided.
“It means simply, people don’t know who these candidates are,” Moore said. “We know they don’t know who Knute Buehler is because somebody who is nobody is polling better than him.”
Buehler’s mistake may have come from failing to tour the state and introduce himself when he announced his intention to run for the office in late August, Moore said.
“He clearly needs to start to doing that stuff so he is at 60 or 70 percent” as the preferred Republican candidate, Moore said.
Rebecca Tweed, Buehler’s campaign manager, did not respond to a request for comment on the survey results.
Thomas Wheatley, the governor’s campaign manager, didn’t comment on the results specific to Brown. However, he said the survey looks like “a Republican effort to cook the books against Knute Buehler.”
“It’s not a voter poll; it’s a membership survey, and the key finding from it that is intriguing is that they put forward this Air Force captain and gave him the right framing and he came out ahead of Knute Buehler,” Wheatley said. “The question is - Who paid for it, and why are they trying to show Buehler is vulnerable in a Republican primary? That is the most intriguing thing here.”
The survey was funded by icitizen, which regularly takes the pulse of residents on political and policy issues, Rich said.
DeRemer said she plans to make an announcement on her intention to run for the position later this month.
“My internal polling showed that we have a path to victory,” she said. “My record as mayor resonates with Oregonians.”
Despite Oregonians’ feelings about Brown, she had a clear advantage from her position as a Democratic incumbent, Moore said.
“She has people who are just not going to vote for a Republican,” he said. “That is a bigger number of people than Republicans who won’t vote for a Democrat, but this is clearly not a race she can coast through, regardless of who her opponent is.”