Abortion foe Kevin Mannix's come-from-behind victory in Tuesday's Republican primary sets the stage for what could be a lively and unpredictable fall race for governor.
On the Democratic side, the consistent frontrunner, Ted Kulongoski, easily defeated his two major opponents in his quest to succeed his political ally and friend, Gov. John Kitzhaber.
All sides expect a tough battle, one of 36 governor races across the country. The national Democratic and Republican parties are closely watching the Oregon gubernatorial race, and believe they can put one of their own in the governor's residence come January.
With 90 percent of the vote counted, Mannix, a former legislator, earned 35 percent of the vote to 30 percent for State Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts and 29 percent for Portland attorney Ron Saxton.
It was a significant victory for Mannix, who had trailed in the polls and in fund-raising behind Saxton and Roberts for most of the campaign.
"I felt like I was standing in the middle of an intersection with trucks coming from both directions," a relieved Mannix told cheering supporters.
Political analyst Jim Moore said the low voter turnout probably helped Mannix, because the social conservatives who support Mannix generally are among the most motivated voters.
"They seem to have backed Mannix wholeheartedly," Moore said.
Kulongoski, a former state Supreme Court justice, rolled to a convincing victory in a three-way Democratic gubernatorial primary.
With 91 percent of the vote counted, Kulongoski had 49 percent of the vote to 26 percent for former state Treasurer Jim Hill and 22 percent for former Multnomah County chairwoman Bev Stein.
In Clatsop County, GOP voters favored Saxton with 1,117 votes. Next came Mannix with 1,018 and Roberts trailing with 918. Democratic voters supported Kulongoski (2,057) ahead of Hill (1,117) and Stein (1,044).
Kulongoski said he was ready for what he believes will be a tough campaign against Mannix.
"It will be a very competitive race. I have always had high regard for his political skills," Kulongoski said of Mannix.
As for his own campaign message, Kulongoski said that putting people back to work and finding ways to increase the state's investment in schools will top the bill.
Mannix, for his part, said abortion won't be the focus of his fall campaign.
"We will move beyond that issue and focus on education, holding the line on taxes and fixing our schools," Mannix said.
In the Republican race, Mannix and Saxton were neck-in-neck in the polls in the campaign's final days, with both leading Roberts.
Mannix was able to pull even with Saxton in the polls in part because of social conservatives' threats to back a third-party spoiler candidate against Saxton in the fall.
Mannix ran as a populist Republican, though over the years he's been at odds with trial lawyers, gay rights activists and pro-abortion rights groups for pushing a pro-traditional-family, get-tough-on-crime agenda.
Saxton began the race as the lesser known of the three, with his years on the Portland School Board serving as his only public office experience.
Saxton tried to use that to his advantage, saying he's the only contender who's not a "career politician," and that he's the only one seriously talking about reducing the cost of the Public Employee Retirement System.
Roberts promoted himself as the GOP candidate with the best chance of winning back the governor's office for Republicans for the first time in 20 years. Roberts, a political moderate, has served two terms as state labor commissioner.
On the Democratic side, Kulongoski gained momentum early on with the endorsement of the popular Kitzhaber and with the backing of the Oregon AFL-CIO.
Kulongoski, who ran for governor in 1982, said his 20 years in statewide politics gave him the experience the next governor will need to lead the state out of its current economic doldrums.
Stein, a former state legislator, said the strong grassroots campaign network she put together around Oregon demonstrated her ability to pull people together on important issues.
Hill, the first black to win statewide office in Oregon, said his tenure as the state treasurer gave him the fiscal experience that the next governor will need.