Knute Buehler's claim to be a social moderate and fiscal conservative is swaying some voters—including high-profile donors who supported Democrat John Kitzhaber for governor in 2014.
Columbia Sportswear CEO Tim Boyle, for instance, gave Kitzhaber $30,000 four years ago and gave Gov. Kate Brown $5,000 in 2016. This year, Boyle's bashing Donald Trump and backing Nancy Pelosi. But in the Oregon governor's race, he's with Buehler.
"I have known and admired Knute for many years and think he will better manage the state and its significant issues," Boyle tells WW.
As an orthopedic surgeon in Bend, he became a millionaire doing joint replacements, investing in real estate and building a thriving clinic.
After losing to Brown for secretary of state in 2012, Buehler won an Oregon House seat in 2014 in a Bend district where Democrats outnumber Republicans.
But winning statewide will require straddling the two major parties—a feat akin to riding two horses at the same time.
So far, he's managed to stay upright. "I'm struck by how effective Buehler has been at defining himself as a different type of Republican: on education and foster care, for instance," says pollster John Horvick of DHM Research. "It's difficult for the Democrats to counter because they have been in charge for a long, long time."
Buehler cheered President Trump's pardon of Harney County ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond earlier this year, a dog whistle to the conservative base. Last week, he joined Democrats in calling for an FBI investigation of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
But abortion is the wedge issue for many Oregonians. To bolster his pro-choice bona fides, Buehler points to a 2015 law he sponsored that allows women to obtain prescription birth control without first seeing a doctor.
Choice advocates say his "no" vote on a sweeping 2017 abortion measure is more telling.
"He needs to make general election voters think he would support reproductive freedom," says Grayson Dempsey of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon. "But in the primary he was trying to let the Republican base know, if they were pro-life, he would be on their side."
Buehler insists he is and always has been pro-choice. He says Brown's supporters are desperate to muddy that fact. "My position on choice is similar to Bill Clinton's," he says. "Pro-choice advocates didn't have any trouble with him."
Buehler's twisted himself into a pretzel on immigration.
He supports Measure 105, which would repeal Oregon's sanctuary law protecting undocumented immigrants. But last month, he told Oregon Public Broadcasting he also supported the principle underpinning the law—that local governments shouldn't deploy police resources to enforce federal immigration rules. So he supports the principle of the law, and he supports the measure that would repeal it.
"I think my position is consistent," Buehler says. "There's a great deal of confusion about the existing law and we've passed new legislation to strengthen its original intent—to stop racial profiling."
Buehler rejects the implication that he's hiding his real views.
"If the voters know I'm a moderate R, I win this election," he says. "It's as simple as that." NIGEL JAQUISS.