SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown wasted no time in responding to Knute Buehler’s candidacy for governor, asking supporters to send money to fight him and other Republican “Trumps-in-training” who want to take her job.
The announcement Thursday by Buehler, Bend’s state representative, that he would run for governor set in motion political playbooks for Democrats and Republicans.
Officially, Brown had nothing to say about Buehler entering the race for her job.
“The governor isn’t commenting on this story,” said Thomas Wheatley, a spokesman for Brown’s campaign committee. “She’s focused on doing the job of governor, not worried who else wants the job.”
But the Kate Brown Committee, the governor’s ongoing campaign arm, sent out an email from “Team Kate” before noon alerting supporters to Buehler’s announcement and asking for contributions.
“We won’t lie, 2016 was a tough year for Democrats across the country,” the message read. “But Oregonians stood up to the hatred and regressive policies of the Trumps-in-training in our state and elected Kate governor.”
“Team Kate” says a Republican governor could veto “expanding access to health care, smart environmental policies and women’s reproductive rights.”
After naming Buehler in black bold-face letters, the pitch tells supporters their contributions are “critical.”
“In order to stop the GOP in their tracks, it’s critical that we have the resources to share Kate’s message of progress, prosperity, and justice with every corner of our state,” the message says.
Brown enjoys a 10-to-1 fundraising advantage over Buehler. Campaign finance filings with the secretary of state show Buehler with a cash balance of $128,095.25. Brown has a cash balance of over $1.3 million, with $782,582.13 raised this year.
The “Team Kate” email weaves between a generic Republican threat and specifically naming Buehler. As a lawmaker who has sponsored pro-choice and pro-environment legislation, Buehler isn’t a snug fit for the campaign’s blanket statement. But it showed that Buehler will have to defend both his own record and either defend or deflect the actions of his party in Oregon and Washington, D.C.
Brown’s first salvo tied Buehler to his party’s leader, President Donald Trump. Trump won the national electoral vote, and with it the White House. But he lost Oregon to Hillary Clinton. Trump’s record low approval ratings nationwide are amplified by the original level of opposition to him in Oregon. It’s another burden that the winner of the May 2018 GOP primary will have to carry, along with the fact that no Republican has been elected governor since 1982.
In an interview with Bulletin editors on Wednesday to confirm his long-anticipated candidacy, the House member from Bend said he expected to be hit with attacks from the left and right. Despite a history of statements against Trump, Buehler will have to carry Trump’s baggage if he makes it to the general election.
Buehler’s new campaign team was concentrating on getting out its own message and fundraising.
“I need you — your support, your ideas, your prayers and your vote. Together, we can fix our schools, our budget, our economy and our government — Let’s win this for Oregon’s future,” Buehler wrote in his email to supporters.
In a later statement, Buehler said Brown’s “Team Kate” email showed she was trying to attach national politics to a state campaign.
“Kate Brown’s comments are yet another indication of where her priorities lie — playing in national politics to distract Oregonians from her record of failed leadership and missed opportunities to improve our state,” Buehler said.
In addition to the “Team Kate” email, state Democrats responded rapidly; Oregon party chair Jeanne Atkins called the announcement “no surprise.”
“He has been signaling his desire to be governor for many years,” Atkins said in a statement.
If Buehler wins the Republican primary, she said, the result of the Brown vs. Buehler race would be the same as when the two faced off in the 2012 election for Secretary of State.
“Gov. Kate Brown beat him before, and she will beat him again,” Atkins said.
While Buehler says Brown has been inept in office, Democrats say Buehler has been unethical.
“Rep. Buehler’s shady business dealings will make it a hard campaign for him,” Atkins said, adding “Knute Buehler represents everything we are trying to change in state government.”
Atkins pointed to the warning letter Buehler received from the Oregon Ethics Commission for failing to disclose payments he received from St. Charles Health System.
The company does business with the state, and state officials are barred from accepting payments from any company with state business.
Democrats have also accused Buehler of using a loophole that allows contributions to businesses owned by elected officials to receive money as long as it does not go to a person directly.
They say Buehler received over $100,000 in business from medical device companies.
In addition to being an orthopedic surgeon, Buehler owns a firm that designs artificial body parts.
“Despite his claims of moderation and ‘going down the middle,’ his actions and votes show he has the interests of a wealthy businessman and is aligned with the core conservatives of the Republican party,” Atkins said.
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