President Joe Biden addresses a crowd at the East Portland Community Center on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2022. (Jacob Fischler/States Newsroom)
PORTLAND – With control of the Oregon governorship and three congressional districts at stake, President Joe Biden visited Portland this weekend to convince Oregonians that his administration’s policies will lower costs for average voters despite record inflation.
Biden spoke to a crowd at the East Portland Community Center on Saturday about the Inflation Reduction Act, the $750 billion climate, health care and tax package passed by Democrats with no Republican votes this summer. He also headlined a $500-a-plate fundraiser for Tina Kotek, the Democratic nominee in a tough race for governor, and joined local Democrats as they made calls for Kotek’s campaign.
“It’s a race that matters well beyond the state of Oregon,” Biden said during the fundraiser.
Biden’s visit came at a critical time, as Kotek struggles to continue Democratic control in an unexpectedly challenging election. Oregon has only elected Democrats as governor since 1986, but growing discontent with the status quo and a well-funded nonaffiliated candidate, former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson, give Republican Christine Drazan a better shot at the governorship than Republicans have had in decades.
For the first time this election cycle, political forecasting website FiveThirtyEight gave Drazan better odds than Kotek at winning the governor’s race shortly before Biden spoke Saturday afternoon: 50 in 100, compared to 49 in 100 for Kotek and 1 in 100 for Johnson.
Before a crowd of Democratic volunteers in Portland on Friday night, Biden urged voters to remember how important the race for governor was.
“What a governor does matters,” Biden said. “It matters. It matters, it matters, it matters.”
He told a crowd of about 200 donors on Saturday afternoon that Kotek would be an ally for his administration’s plans to combat climate change, saying global warming is the world’s biggest risk. Biden also praised Kotek’s record on abortion rights and said those rights are at risk if Republicans win.
“It’s up to the states now to make these judgments,” he said. “You have a bunch of MAGA Republicans running.”
It’s not only Kotek facing a more difficult election than Democrats typically do in Oregon – Democratic congressional nominees Val Hoyle, Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Andrea Salinas are also each running tough races against well-funded Republicans in Oregon’s 4th, 5th and 6th congressional districts. Hoyle and McLeod-Skinner are seeking to succeed two outgoing Democratic representatives, Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader, while the 6th District is new this cycle.
Biden’s two campaign events were restricted to a traveling pool of national reporters who cover the White House, with no Oregon reporters allowed. Pool notes, transcripts of his remarks provided by the White House and social media posts from Oregon Democratic volunteers described his visit.
Biden landed in Portland shortly before 6:30 p.m. Friday and was greeted by Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, both Democrats. He handed Bonamici a cupcake for her birthday, then took off for a union hall of SEIU, Service Employees International Union, to join Oregon Democratic volunteers as they phone-banked for Kotek and other Democrats.
Merkley, Bonamici, Kotek and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, joined him at the hall. Biden walked in with a box of donuts and ate a piece of a chocolate long john and an entire glazed donut while phone-banking, according to pool reports.
“I’m a little bit of a cockeyed optimist,” Biden told volunteers. “I realize that. But the truth of the matter is I’ve never been more optimistic about America’s prospects.”
He spent about 20 minutes on the phone with voters, including taking another volunteer’s headset at one point. That volunteer was talking to a voter who wasn’t sure whether he was going to vote this year, a Democratic Party staffer tweeted.
After his remarks Saturday afternoon, he was scheduled to headline a fundraiser for Kotek at the Pacific Northwest Carpenters Institute. With an entry cost of $500, people who contributed $10,000 or more could take a picture with Biden. All attendees had to be vaccinated and test negative for Covid on site or within the past 24 hours.
Biden’s travel comes as his approval ratings hit new lows. The most recent poll from Morning Consult, which regularly surveys Americans on their thoughts on the president, found that more voters disapprove than approve of Biden in 41 of 50 states. Oregon, Utah, Alaska and Hawaii saw the largest decline in his net approval rating since the summer.
In Oregon, 54% of poll respondents said they disapproved of his performance, compared to just 41% who approved. The same poll showed 56% of Oregon voters disapproved of Gov. Kate Brown, while only 40% approved – she has the worst approval ratings in the country.
Brown left Friday for a trade mission in Japan and South Korea and wasn’t there to greet Biden. She has endorsed Kotek but has largely stayed away from the campaign trail as Kotek attempts to dismiss criticism that she’ll be Brown 2.0.
State Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Tim Knopp, R-Bend, emphasized Biden’s low approval ratings in statements criticizing his visit.
“We’re surprised anyone would want to be seen with the President who with the help of his Democrat colleagues caused the highest gas prices in Oregon history,” Knopp said.
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