SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A prominent Republican in the Oregon Legislature beat two main rivals in the party's gubernatorial primary on Tuesday, setting up a November showdown against Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, who handily won her party's primary.
State Rep. Knute Buehler, who emerged the GOP winner with a strong lead, was the most centrist of the Republican front-runners. The contest was the most watched-one in this predominantly Democratic state, widely seen as a referendum on which candidates are appealing to Republicans.
In an interview, Buehler said he planned to challenge Brown on issues like public school improvements and affordable housing.
"It sets the stage for a wonderful general election," Buehler said.
Buehler told supporters at a rally in Wilsonville, south of Portland: "I will succeed where Kate Brown has failed."
In the race for the U.S. House of Representatives seat covering eastern and central Oregon, incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Walden will face Democrat Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who emerged victorious in a field crowded with seven Democratic candidates.
In U.S. House District 4, incumbent Rep. Peter DeFazio won the Democratic primary to face old rival Art Robinson, a Republican. Robinson was one of the first U.S. politicians to use Cambridge Analytica, the firm that this year became embroiled in the Facebook data scandal, as a consultant in his unsuccessful 2014 run against DeFazio.
With partial results announced by the Oregon secretary of state's office after polls closed at 8 p.m., Buehler had more votes than his two main challengers combined: Retired Navy pilot Greg Wooldridge and businessman Sam Carpenter.
While skeptical of major new spending, Buehler says he is open to increased taxes on electronic and regular cigarettes to pay for budget items like health care, and also to a carbon tax, although not to the Democrats' cap and trade proposal.
At one Salem polling place, voters described personal reactions to President Donald Trump and a renewed sense of civic obligation as motivating them to vote.
Doug Crook, a Republican, said he felt caught between the stances taken by politicians on both ends of the political spectrum.
"I'm stuck," Crook said, adding that he sympathized with some of the broader goals of the political left, like protecting workers, but that he thought many proposals floated by Democrats around the state were too extreme, including rent regulation and gun control.
But Crook said he also hesitates over some of the proposals from his own party, including extreme deregulation - and that he was put off by hearing some candidates embrace Trump.
"I want to see more Republican values supported in this state, but not necessarily for Trump," Crook said. "I can't vote for anyone that supports the Trump approach."
Carpenter fully embraced Trump, even adopting a "make Oregon great again" campaign slogan.
Buehler repeatedly distanced himself from the president.
Wooldridge had sought something of a middle ground, distancing himself from Trump's attacks on prominent veterans but saying he's open to some of his ideas.
The three also differed on policy, with Buehler giving mixed support to abortion and Wooldridge taking an opposite stance. Both Carpenter and Wooldridge opposed a pair of gun-related initiatives.
In the state Legislature, one significant reversal in the race came with results for the 24th District, which saw Democratic Sen. Rod Monroe beaten by Shemia Fagan.
No Republican has filed in the Portland-area district, where members of the party are outnumbered by Democrats nearly two-to-one, making Fagan all but certain to take Monroe's seat.
At least two state Senate races are also pivotal: the 3rd and 15th districts. Both were last won by only hundreds of votes, and who ends up on the ballot could give either party a crucial edge in the general election.
Republicans won the 3rd Senate District in 2016, but by only 395 votes, or less than a percentage point, and with Republican Sen. Alan DeBoer retiring, no incumbent will be on the ticket. The 15th District will also likely be close: After losing to a Republican in 2010, Democratic Sen. Chuck Riley won it in 2014 by only 287 votes.
Keeping the 15th and winning the 3rd would give Democrats a supermajority in the Senate, but a loss in either would spoil that plan.