SALEM — Alongside the 2018 session of the Oregon Legislature, the race for governor has taken a number of turns in recent days.

Gov. Kate Brown leads Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, her best known opponent for governor, in the first major one-on-one independent poll of the 2018 campaign season.

Brown was backed by 46 percent of respondents, with 29 percent supporting Buehler. Just less than 25 percent were undecided.

The telephone survey by DHM Research of Portland was conducted for Oregon Public Broadcasting. It polled 604 registered voters in Oregon, chosen to reflect the demographics of the state. The poll, taken in late January, has a 4 percent margin of error.

John Horvick, political director of DHM Research, told OPB that the results should be taken with a dose of reality that it is very early in the campaign.

“What we’re basically seeing is Kate Brown versus generic Republican,” Horvick told OPB. “She’s probably vulnerable against a strong candidate. It’s yet to be seen whether Knute Buehler is a strong candidate.”

Horvick noted that Buehler is the only Brown opponent who has raised a significant amount of money — about $2.8 million in 2017 and 2018.

Buehler mum on opponent

The entry of motivational speaker and former Navy Blue Angels squadron commander Greg Wooldridge into the governor’s race gives Buehler an opponent who, based on previous public statements, will run to the right of the Bend lawmaker in the Republican primary. Asked about Wooldridge, Buehler campaign manager Rebecca Tweed said, “We don’t comment on primary opponents.”

The Democratic Governors Association, which is backing Brown, jumped on the Wooldridge candidacy to suggest it could siphon support from Buehler and force him to spend money in a contentious primary.

The group said Wooldridge’s entry would force “a nasty and expensive race to the right.”

Wooldridge has filed to run, but has yet to set up a campaign finance committee or stump for the governorship. A total of eight Republicans are seeking the nomination in the May 15 primary election, while Brown has one Democratic challenger.

Early 2018 money lead

Campaign finance records show Buehler out-pacing Brown in fundraising since Jan. 1. Buehler has raised $516,000 compared to Brown’s $147,000 since Jan. 1. Under state law, contributions must be reported within 30 days of being received. Buehler’s total is through Sunday. Brown’s total is through Jan. 27. The reports show Brown has $2.8 million in the bank, while Buehler has $2 million available to spend.

Under House rules, Buehler cannot raise funds during the 35-day legislative session that began Monday, although Brown is not similarly limited. Buehler challenged Brown to put a moratorium on fundraising during the session, but the she declined.

Return of ‘Buehler bill’

Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, has introduced House Bill 4077, which would close a loophole in state ethics filings. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing on Thursday.

In 2017, Democrats filed a complaint against Buehler, saying he had failed to report income received from companies doing business with the state. The Oregon Ethics Commission threw out the bulk of the complaint, saying that Buehler had not violated the law because the payments were to Buehler’s company, not to Buehler. Buehler was admonished with a “letter of education” over $12,500 he received from the St. Charles Health System. Rayfield introduced a bill to close what he called “The Buehler Loophole,” and the state Democratic Party touted the legislation, but the bill died in committee at end of the 2017 session. This year, Rayfield has introduced the bill with, so far, less fanfare. It requires that all money over $1,000 received by state officials from companies doing business with the state must be reported on ethics filings – whether the money went to the person directly or to a company they own.

Buehler backs Helt in House race

Cheri Helt, a Bend-La Pine Schools board member, has been endorsed by Buehler to succeed him in representing the 54th House District.

“I am proud to support Cheri to represent Bend in the Oregon House,” Buehler said in a statement. “She’s a proven leader in our community and passionate about improving education for our kids. Her leadership on the school board and her experience as a small business person will make her a strong, independent leader, and representative for Bend.” Helt is currently the only Republican in the race. Bend city Councilor Nathan Boddie, a Democrat, is also running for the seat. The deadline for running for state office is March 6.

— Reporter: 541-525-5280,