February 18 2019
As swank candidate fundraisers go, the gathering of possible Knute Buehler supporters on Sept. 12 could hardly have been more cliché. There was the setting: a hillside mansion with a dramatic view of Portland's twinkling cityscape. There were the attendees: 30 or so well-heeled voters sipping wine and waiting to hear Buehler's pitch for why he should be Oregon's first Republican governor in three decades. But then there was the host: Megan Murphy, a registered Democrat.
Despite the best economy we're going to see in our lifetime … Portland has gone so backwards, and the state has gotten so many challenges and so few solutions," Murphy said as she and her guests waited for Buehler to arrive. "What's gelling here is I haven't had another Republican candidate that's sort of … more in the middle." That's a notion the 54-year-old Buehler is counting on to boost him over the high hurdle faced by Republican candidates for statewide office in Oregon. And if most recent polls about the race hold true, it's made this race surprisingly competitive. In a reliably blue state, in the throes of an election year where pundits are predicting a "blue wave," it's possible Buehler has a shot at the governor's office. If he does convince Oregonians he's the person for the job, Buehler would be the first Republican to hold the seat since 1987.
A big part of Buehler's strategy is his ability to reach people like Murphy. As the Nov. 6 election approaches, the orthopedic surgeon and state representative from Bend seems to be doing all he can to not sound like a Republican. The approach is evident in omnipresent ads — touting Buehler's pro-choice stance, his belief in climate change, his support of same-sex marriage — that frequently gloss over his credentials as a fiscal conservative. And it's a hallmark of the "independent-minded" descriptor he uses during stump speeches.
As it happens, that's nothing new for Buehler. The Bend House district he's represented since 2015 leans Democratic in registration, yet has voted him into office twice.
"We have experience in bringing people together in bipartisan fashion," Buehler recently said in an interview on KATU. "For me to get elected in Bend, I have to form a robust coalition of not only Republicans, but independents and moderate Democrats, and that's what I see happening right now. It's very encouraging to me."
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