SALEM — State Rep. Knute Buehler slammed Gov. Kate Brown repeatedly over the past week, the Bend Republican saying Brown was a failure on health care, public pensions, taxes and just about everything else. If elected governor, he could do better.

His call for cash to beat Brown was answered with $75,000 in donations, including one for $10,000.

Brown’s shot back, calling Buehler a “Trump-in-waiting” whose claims at being a moderate Republican were a smokescreen for a wealthy businessman who used his office to aid “unethical” relationships with corporate cronies.

Her re-election would ensure progress.

Her call for cash to beat Buehler brought in $111,000 — including one donation of $75,000.

With scathing accusations and torrents of money, the week truly felt like the home stretch of a bitter statewide campaign.

Except the general election is 15 months away, in November 2018. And no one can file to run for governor before Sept. 7. Then there is the not-so-insignificant matter of the primaries next May. Even when candidates can start to file, the window to get in — or in and then back out — stretches until March 2018.

By being first the first Republican to announce, Buehler for now, can campaign as if it is the general election already. He is the front-runner until someone takes the pole position away from him. A strong start can convince other Republicans on the fence about running to stay there.

“Our campaign has been hard at work over the last week with all of the activities of a robust campaign for governor — raising money, raising support, sharing Knute’s message, working with volunteers,” said Rebecca Tweed, Buehler’s campaign manager.

One way to keep the primary field small is to get a good lead on money. Matching the incumbent right now isn’t likely possible. Brown started with more than $1.7 million in the bank, a 10-to-1 money lead over Buehler.

Buehler received hundreds of small donations in the days after he declared his candidacy, with only a $10,000 donation from financial planner Howard M. Koff, of Bend, hitting five figures. Fueled by her anti-Buehler email blast, Brown during the same period received $111,000 — with a $75,000 donation from the Laborer’s Political League PAC alone equaling Buehler’s total.

How long Buehler will have the field alone will soon be seen. Buehler was the first Republican to go public, but he’s the third Republican to create a campaign committee.

Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer registered a committee in June for the governor’s race. She expects to make a decision “soon.”

In what might be a preview of the GOP primary, Chavez-DeRemer said her relationship with Buehler was “cordial” but she didn’t think he was the right candidate to carry the party to victory next year.

“This is not about going after Knute Buehler, but Oregonians need a win,” Chavez-DeRemer said. “I think a few people might expect a handpicked nominee to come out of the Salem establishment to go after the Democrat-union machine and Kate Brown. I am an outsider who has the only real chance of beating Kate Brown.”

Buehler has declined comment on Chavez-DeRemer or any unannounced Republican candidate.

The biggest question marks concern not “who is in” but “who is not out.”

The biggest name still dangling is Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who became the first Republican to win statewide office in over a decade when he was elected last November.

Richardson told the Portland Tribune that Buehler “would make a fine governor,” but added, “I’m excited to see who else will be entering the race.” Richardson says he likes his new job, but would “make no promises about the future.”

Also in the “maybe” mix is radio host-turned-Rep. Bill Post of Keizer. A favorite of Republicans who supported President Trump, Post keeps up a humorous, conservative banter on Twitter — just like the resident of the White House. Asked via Twitter if he is running for governor, Post tweeted back, “You’ll be the first to know — or at least the fourth.” Add in nearly every GOP candidate who lost a statewide race in recent years to the maybe list.

The only other registered committee for a candidate running as a Republican for governor in 2018 belongs to Dave Stauffer, a self-described “environmental inventor” from Portland. Stauffer self-funded a primary run for governor in 2016 — as a Democrat. Stauffer advocated the construction of a 30-story parking garage in Vancouver, Washington, where commuters could park, take elevators to the roof and ride a waterslide across the Columbia River to Portland. He received 2.8 percent of the primary vote.

Reporter: 541-525-5280, gwarner@bendbulletin.com

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