SALEM — The three front-runners seeking the Republican nomination for governor faced off in an acrimonious debate Friday on the Lars Larson Show.
Larson quizzed State Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, an orthopedic surgeon; Sam Carpenter, a Bend businessman; and Greg Wooldridge, a motivational speaker and retired U.S. Navy pilot, on topics ranging from taxes to the death penalty.
The debate also showcased differences of opinion between Buehler, who has been cast as a moderate, and Wooldridge and Carpenter, who are more conservative.
Buehler has been generally favored to win the nomination, although a poll made public Thursday indicates Carpenter is not far behind.
There was open hostility between Carpenter and the other candidates.
When, for example, Larson asked Carpenter to respond to attack ads recently unveiled by Buehler, Carpenter said he has been “wildly mischaracterized” by Buehler and Wooldridge.
“Everything you’ve said has been either a distortion or a complete lie,” Carpenter said to Buehler. “And Greg, you’ve done the same thing. How come you guys are ganging up on me? What’s the problem?”
“Because you have a problem with telling the truth,” Buehler replied. The Buehler campaign last week unveiled an ad alleging Carpenter has repeatedly failed to pay his taxes on time, a charge Carpenter claims is an exaggeration.
Wooldridge criticized Carpenter for what he characterized as misleading statements suggesting Carpenter had served in the military.
“By the way, Sam, your desperation doesn’t serve you well,” Wooldridge said. “It won’t serve the governor of Oregon well either.”
Carpenter said he never suggested he’d served in the military. He trumpeted his support for President Donald J. Trump and maintained he was the only candidate who could “rally the base.”
“There is no way Knute can take (Governor) Kate Brown in November,” Carpenter said, alleging Buehler was too moderate in his stances on guns and abortion.
“I’m an independent minded person, and I’ll call each issue as I see it,” Buehler said of Trump’s positions.
Wooldridge said he and the president have different “styles,” but that he supported the president.
All three candidates said that, if elected, they would not to raise taxes or create new ones.
Wooldridge and Buehler said they would not enforce a proposed ban on certain types of semiautomatic firearms and high-capacity magazines — Initiative Petition 43 — that petitioners want to get onto the statewide ballot in November.
Carpenter said his job as governor was to enforce the law, but emphasized his view that the petition should be prevented from becoming law in the first place.
The primary is Tuesday, May 15. Altogether, there are nine candidates vying for the Republican nomination.
The winner will very likely face Brown, who is expected to handily secure the Democratic nomination next week.
Larson said in a Facebook post the morning of the program that Brown had been invited to the event, but did not respond.
“I haven’t received any invitation from Lars,” said Christian Gaston, the communications director for Brown’s campaign, wrote in an email Friday to the EO/Pamplin Capital Bureau. “I’ve heard him say a number of times that the governor has a standing invitation to come on his program.”