Following the money could be the key to understanding the race, Duffy says. If national Democrats feel the need to start spending heavily in Oregon, she would likely move Cook’s rating of the race to “toss-up” from “likely Democratic,” its current designation.
But at the moment, Brown’s funding advantage is a substantial one. “Right now, she can just match him and do a little bit better than him, and it’s like a big kid holding off a little kid by putting their hand on his forehead,” Moore says.
Brown’s campaign expressed confidence in their ability to win in November, noting the governor’s record in public service, the Democratic-leaning national environment, and a belief that Buehler could be portrayed as a relatively right-wing candidate who is out of touch with the state. Christian Gaston, Brown’s communications director, said Brown’s no-nonsense public image could help her. “At the end of the day, she’s not the sort of person who wants her name in lights or to take credit for stuff; she’s just the sort of person who wants to get things done,” he says.
Looper believes that Buehler will struggle to create a positive public image. To successfully run as a Republican in a Democratic-leaning state, he says, takes a robust public image focused on being “pissed off that the system isn’t working for enough people.” And to Looper, “Knute Buehler looks like someone who has always been well fed by the system.” To unite the largely rural conservative Republican base in Oregon with moderate suburbanites and small-city dwellers will be difficult, in Looper’s estimation. “He would need to fix a fundamental problem of trying to look like a moderate while not losing [the] hardcore anti-choice conservative base, who do have a third-party choice,” Looper says. “It would help if he grew another two feet, too.”
But Buehler’s campaign believes that a contrast of public images does not favor Brown. “People are getting to know Knute Buehler,” says the Oregon Republican Party spokesperson Kevin Hoar. “They already know Kate Brown, and that’s the reason why, in part, this race is competitive.” Hoar believes Brown has sought the national spotlight too much since becoming governor, creating an opening for Buehler.
Reed, Buehler’s campaign manager, made a similar case. “She’s very well defined, but no one is a really huge Kate Brown fan,” he says. “It’s very interesting. The reason is, on these very localized issues that are unique to Oregon, she’s failing in the eyes of the electorate.” So Buehler hopes to run a unique campaign, fighting Brown on issues that are Democrats’ home turf. “Is he a conservative in sheep’s clothing? No, I believe he’s a moderate,” says Greg Wooldridge, one of Buehler’s former primary opponents.
If former adversaries like Wooldridge are any indication, Buehler may have less of a problem on his right flank than strategists like Looper anticipate. Although he ran hard to Buehler’s right in the primary, Wooldridge is now a firm supporter and says he wants to work with Buehler to solidify rural support. Jonathan Lockwood, a conservative political consultant who worked with Buehler from October 2017 to February 2018 and later served on Wooldridge’s campaign, believes “a lot of moderates are squishes,” but supports Buehler because of his belief that Brown lacks the qualifications to run the state.