When Republican nominee for governor Knute Buehler declared his support for Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon's 31-year-old sanctuary law, he aligned his campaign with one of the most controversial, far-right political groups in the state.
105 would overturn a state law that says state and local law enforcement agencies can't assist federal officials in locating and deporting undocumented immigrants whose only violation is being in the U.S. illegally. Oregon's sanctuary law is similar to those in six other states across the country.
Political observers say Buehler's decision was calculated to appeal to conservative voters across the state who in 2014 overwhelmingly struck down a law that allowed undocumented immigrants to obtain four-year Oregon driver's cards.
The only county to support Measure 88, which would have greenlighted the cards? Blue fortress Multnomah County.
But the political atmosphere has changed in the past four years. Xenophobia has a face: the orange mug of President Donald J. Trump. The White House's zero-tolerance and family separation policies on immigration have generated tremendous outrage.
And while nearly half of Oregon's sheriffs signed a letter in August supporting Measure 105, they enforce the law for less than 20 percent of the state's population. Some of the state's most prominent law-and-order figures—including Multnomah County Sheriff Mike Reese and Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel—are against the measure.
Some people think Buehler has miscalculated.
"I can't believe the measure has much chance of passing," says Paul Gronke, a Reed College professor and director of the Early Voting Information Center. "Oregon is a very blue state at this point, and oddly enough, our lack of diversity is going to make this even less likely to pass" because racial frictions don't happen as often.
Democrats are betting they can use OFIR's bad reputation to sever Buehler from swing voters.
Gov. Kate Brown's campaign attacked him Sept. 10, saying he had accepted the support of "the most prominent anti-immigrant hate group in Oregon." (They exaggerated OFIR's support for Buehler, falsely calling it a candidate endorsement—but the basic thrust seemed to stick, and was parroted by other progressive groups.)
Two weeks ago, Buehler walked back his support for Measure 105. He says he still supports the repeal, but he also supports the principle behind Oregon's sanctuary law of not cooperating with deportations and vowed to adopt a similar policy if he's elected governor.