Nike co-founder Phil Knight has decided to throw his hat in the ring for republican gubernatorial candidate Christine Drazan. His $1 million donation to her campaign will guarantee that she has a fighting chance against Democratic candidate Tina Kotek.
A Tight Race for the Future of Oregon
This is a strange time for the state of Oregon. The housing crisis, the pandemic, crippling drought, inflation, and gas prices–not to mention unrest–have all polarized residents, leading to a neck-in-neck race for governor.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen on November 8. Drazan (R) and Kotek (D) poll somewhere in the low-thirties, each well within the general margin of error. Neither of them appears to be behind or ahead, which means we can expect to see a fight.
Political ads are already flooding television screens, filling up billboards, and feeds on social media. This an expensive race. At the time of writing this, each candidate boasts somewhere between $14-16 million, and they’re just getting started. Expect more ads, more discourse, and more tension online.
Rich Oregonians Are Voting With Their Wallets
Rich Oregonians are known to influence elections by donating large amounts of money, hoping to prop up their favorite candidate. Money doesn’t necessarily buy elections, but it does help. In House and Senate federal elections, top spenders win between 70-80% of the time. So when a businessman like Nike’s co-founder Phil Knight opens his wallet, heads turn.
Initially, Knight was backing unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson, a long-time democrat with a history of serving in both the state’s Senate and House. Her advisors believed that experience would give her an edge in the race, even without the backing of a major party. At the time, Knight’s campaign donation of $3.75 million seemed like a reasonable decision.
In late September, the Oregonian reported that Johnson’s support was hovering around 18%, making her the least likely candidate to win. According to OPB, rumors started to spread that Knight was considering endorsing another candidate.
Knight is difficult to read. He’s given large amounts of money to republican associations. He made a generous contribution to republican candidate Knute Buehler in 2018, but he also moved to support Johnson, who is relatively progressive. She has identified as a democrat for many years, and her policies are most closely aligned with the left.
Knight doesn’t appear to be going off of partisanship, and nobody has been able to ascertain his intentions behind his endorsements. They try endlessly. He is extremely wealthy, which means he has the power to give candidates a viable boost. He could swing the results of the election.
Rolling Stone did an article in 2018 going over policies that Knight might have been concerned about. It wasn’t much, and it was all speculation. They also sent out requests for comment from Buehler, Kate Brown, and Knight’s camp. Buehler’s campaign gave a form response stating that they don’t comment on donors. Kate Brown sent back a political talking point about money in politics; it was well-worded, but it wasn’t revealing, and Knight refused to say a word. That’s how he is. He does what he wants, and he lets the world speculate.
When news got around that he was planning on endorsing another candidate, people were curious. Many thought he would choose Kotek. Her views are more closely aligned with Johnson’s. Instead, Knight chose Drazan, which many believed to be a vote against Kotek, not a vote in favor of her opponent. It makes sense. He’s already spent $4.75 million to keep her from becoming governor.
We will never know if this is actually the case regardless of what anyone says. But we can see the effects of Knight’s decision. The state of Oregon hasn’t had a republican governor in office for nearly 50 years, and now the race is tied. He just might have given Drazan the boost she needs to make history–for better or for worse.