The Closest State Senate Race Last Week Was Also the Most Expensive Oregon Legislative Race Ever

Democrat Mark Meek narrowly slipped past incumbent Sen. Bill Kennemer in Clackamas County.

With the addition of some late votes yesterday, general election turnout in Clackamas County is now 65.6%, higher than the statewide average of 64%. It appears that except for resolving so-called challenge ballots—those that have signature issues—that county is finished.

That means state Rep. Mark Meek (D-Gladstone) has won the closest Senate race last week and the most expensive state legislative race in Oregon history, narrowly defeating incumbent state Sen. Bill Kennemer (R-Oregon City).

The most recent tally shows Meek, a realtor and property manager who has served three terms in the House ahead of Kennemer, a retired psychologist, 50.25% to 49.61%, a difference of 373 votes.

Meek spent $2.76 million on the race; Kennemer spent $2.08 million. Their $4.84 million total shatters the previous high for spending in an Oregon legislative race, which according to Followthemoney.org, was $2.86 million, set in 2020 in Salem’s Senate District 10.

Meek, who says he personally knocked on 7,000 doors, needed to overcome the name familiarity and long political tenure of Kennemer, who has served in the Legislature or on the Clackamas County Commission nearly continuously since 1986.

“I’m very pleased with the results,” Meek says. “I’ve been on pins and needles waiting for the votes to come in.”

Meek’s win gives Democrats 17 seats in the 30-seat Senate, which marks a loss of one seat and their supermajority but is a better result than many predicted. Republicans picked up two seats in the House, also costing Democrats their supermajority in the lower chamber. House Democrats will now hold a 35-25 seat advantage over the GOP.

The Legislature will begin its 2023 session on Jan. 17.