Kulongoski wins renomination; Saxton wins GOP primary

Portland lawyer Ron Saxton vanquished Kevin Mannix and Jason Atkinson to win the Republican gubernatorial nomination Tuesday, and he promised a united GOP effort in the fall to defeat Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski, who easily defeated two Democratic opponents.

“Republicans are ready for a change. They want to win in November,” a jubilant Saxton said after he scored a convincing victory over Mannix, who had defeated him in the 2002 GOP primary.

With 66 percent of ballots counted, Saxton had 43 percent of the vote to Mannix’s 30 percent. Atkinson, a state senator from Central Point and the third major contender for the nomination, had 22 percent.

The Saxton-Mannix race was filled with negative attack ads and acrimony, but as Mannix conceded defeat Tuesday night he pledged to help Saxton in his November race with Kulongoski.

“I will do my duty to help our nominee in November. It is so important for this state,” said Mannix.

Saxton said he appreciated Mannix’s “gracious offer,” and he said Oregon Republicans are sensing they might have a real chance to win back the governor’s office after five successive defeats to the Democrats.

“We’re going to stay focused in the fall campaign on giving taxpayers more value for their dollars and improving our education system,” he said.

Political observer Jim Moore said Republican voters made it clear that Mannix, after four unsuccessful runs for statewide office, needed to step aside to make way for a contender who could win in November.

“There was a sense that the Republicans finally needed to have a winner. Republicans are really hungry to win any statewide office,” said Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

In the Democratic race, Kulongoski drew 54 percent of the vote, turning back a challenge by former State Treasurer Jim Hill, who got 30 percent, and Peter Sorenson, a Lane County commissioner, who drew 16 percent.

Kulongoski drew a spirited challenge from Hill, in particular, who regularly called Kulongoski a “do-nothing” governor who had failed to show leadership on education, health care and the environment.

Still, the Democratic governor told supporters Tuesday night he was “grateful” for the tough fight Hill and Sorenson had given him in the primary.

“I’m going to be a better general election candidate because of the campaign effort they made,” Kulongoski said.

Moore, the political observer, said Kulongoski had made a respectable showing despite the strident criticism he got from his opponents.

“But clearly, he’s going to have to reach out in November to the 45 percent of the Democrats who didn’t vote for him, and say, ‘Join me in keeping this office in Democratic hands,'” he said.