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Image: Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson speaks during a gubernatorial debate hosted by Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association at Mt Hood Oregon Resort in Welches, Ore., on July 29, 2022.
Unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson speaks during a gubernatorial debate hosted by Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association at Mt Hood Oregon Resort in Welches, Ore., on July 29, 2022.Jamie Valdez / The Oregonian via AP, Pool file

Oregon's nonaffiliated candidate hits opponents from both sides

Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson is trying to split her Republican and Democratic opponents and win the governor's race in the middle.

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The campaign of Oregon's non-affiliated gubernatorial hopeful, former Democratic state Sen. Betsy Johnson, has a new campaign ad that hits the state's Republican and Democratic nominees from all sides.

The new ad attacks Democratic nominee and former state House Speaker Tina Kotek on issues like homeless camping, the 2020 protests in Portland, and Democrats' push to lower penalties for drug possession. Kotek has supported laws to protect homeless campers and decriminalize drugs, while she criticized police behavior during a July 2020 protest in Portland — but her stances on all three don’t go as far as how Johnson describes them in her new ad.

And from the right, Johnson hits former Republican state House leader Christine Drazan by saying she wants to "make abortion illegal." Drazan is open about her opposition to expanding abortion rights access, telling Oregon Public Broadcasting she would have vetoed the 2017 legislation that codified abortion access into the state's constitution and points to her endorsement from Oregon Right to Life on her campaign's issue page. But she's told reporters she recognizes that the state's constitution does recognize abortion access.

Johnson's attempt to push both candidates to the extremes comes as she looks to run down the middle of the two candidates and perform the rare feat of winning a statewide election as a non-affiliated candidate. She's been the biggest spender on the airwaves so far — spending $6.3 million on ads, per AdImpact, compared to $3.7 million for Drazan and $3.2 million for Kotek.

Drazan has sought to push back on that strategy by linking Johnson and Kotek as two former state House Democrats, pinning Oregon's legislative agenda on them.

And in Kotek's first ad, she emphasized her community volunteer work, as well as how she believes her policies to address homelessness are making people safer.