Oregon Gov. Kate Brown Triumphs Over Republican Knute Buehler

Incumbent Democrat appears to on pace to win her second governor's race in two years.

Despite a massive infusion of Nike co-founder Phil Knight's money and a relentless effort to convince voters he's a moderate, Republican nominee for governor and state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend) appears to be falling short in his effort to unseat incumbent Gov. Kate Brown (D-Oregon).

The first release of numbers at 8 pm showed Brown with a commanding, nearly 11 percentage-point lead with almost one million votes counted. Given that Democrats tend to do better as election nights wear on, and about half the likely votes are counted, it will be very difficult for Buehler to catch up.

Brown triumphantly took took the stage at 8:51 pm to strains of Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down."

She was literally jumping for joy.

After shout-outs to two predecessors, former Govs. Barbara Roberts and Ted Kulongoski, Brown focused on the positives in a night where Democrats nationally fell slightly short of their hopes.

Brown highlighted the victories of Democratic women in Kansas, Michigan and New Mexico and celebrated progressives' sweep of ballot measures in Oregon and what appears to be super-majorities in both legislative chambers.

"When our values are on the ballot Oregonians will stand together for what we believe in," Brown said. "We fought to keep Oregon a welcoming and inclusive state."

Although Brown's victory appeared certain, she said she had not yet received the traditional congratulatory phone call from her GOP opponent, state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend).

She did comment on Buehler's cash haul from Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

"It was relief," she told reporters later. "No one person should be able to buy the governor's office. We need to fight for campaign finance reform and starting tomorrow, I will lead that fight."

The two combined to spend nearly $36 million, a number that doubles the previous record spending on an Oregon governor's race and will increase as the candidates disclosure contributions that came in on the last week of the campaign.

Knight gave Buehler $2.5 million and gave at least another $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which has given Buehler $3.4 million.

Blocks away from the Hilton, in the Sentinel Hotel, Buehler conceded the race, asking his supporters to stop booing Brown.

He said he wasn't sure what was next for him personally.

"When I started this a year ago, I burned every bridge in my career," Buehler said. "I have no idea, truly no idea, what the future holds for me."

He asked Democrats to consider "the voices of people that haven't been heard."

"I hope my Democratic colleagues will look at that body of work," he concluded, "and please, steal shamelessly from us. They're good ideas. We're happy to help."

The buttoned-down crowd in the Hilton contained little of the extremist energy that has infected the Republican Party in the Trump era; not a single MAGA hat was in sight. Buehler's supporters were crestfallen—especially after media reports suggesting Oregon's governorship was a toss-up.

Xander Almeida, a 33-year-old bartender a Multnomah County Republican Party precinct committee person, said voters checked the partisan box in the governor's race.

"I wish that more people in the state would look across party lines," he said.  "You should have a better reason to vote for someone than party affiliation."

How did he feel? "Awful," he said, "and not drunk enough."

WW news intern Anna Del Savio contributed reporting to this story.