Mayor Ted Wheeler's run for re-election has just been extended by five months. With nearly all ballots counted, it's clear Wednesday evening that Wheeler hasn't collected enough votes to avoid a runoff election against urban policy consultant Sarah Iannarone on November 3.
A late afternoon update from Multnomah County Elections Office shows that Wheeler has received 49.38 percent of the primary votes, with Iannarone collecting 23.38 percent. Wheeler needed to land 50 percent of the votes (plus one) to dodge a runoff.
"Fifty percent of Portlanders said they don't want more of the incumbent," said Iannarone in a call with the Mercury. "That should tell us something."
Iannarone led a campaign decidedly to the left of Democrat Wheeler, focusing on police reform, affordable housing, transportation access, and environmental protections. She ran against Wheeler during his first run for mayor in 2016, and only collected 11 percent of primary election votes. She partially credits her success this election to the city's new Open and Accountable Elections program, which allows candidates who commit to accepting small donations to receive public funding to bolster their campaign expenses.
The now-extended race may force Wheeler to put more energy into his campaign.
Wheeler spent little on campaign ads leading up to the primary race and had a scant presence on social media platforms. However, Wheeler still collected strong financial support by monied developers, business leaders, and unions—enough to sail him into the lead with little effort.
Campaigning during a global pandemic may have helped Wheeler. Oregon political pollsters estimated that, due to name recognition alone, incumbents had a higher chance of winning an election that all but outlawed door-knocking and event-hosting by less familiar, grassroots candidates.
Iannarone mentioned her campaign's disappointment in not being able to hold house parties and canvas neighborhoods to educate Portlanders about her platform due to COVID-19. Instead, her campaign produced podcasts and video updates to pique voters' interest. Iannarone said this win marks a new chapter in her campaign's strategy.
"Now's an opportunity to let Portlanders really know who I am and what I have to offer," she said. "There's not always clarity about what I bring to the table. The primary campaign focused on what was lacking in the incumbent. Now we get to say, 'Let's talk about what you do want.'"
Wheeler's campaign did not immediately respond to the Mercury's request for comment Wednesday evening. Wheeler did, however, share this statement with the media:
"While it’s disappointing to fall just short of an outright majority in the primary, it was always a possibility in such a crowded field. We will finish this primary with a significant margin over any other candidate and will continue to monitor the returns as they are finalized in the next few days."
In a February interview with the Mercury, Wheeler suggested his top opponent in the primary race was himself.
"For me, winning this election isn’t just getting re-elected with 51 percent of the vote," Wheeler said at the time. "I need a mandate. I need people to understand the work I’m doing around housing, around homelessness, around police reform, around the environment, the work I’m going to do to restructure our form of government. I need to come in with strength. As important as it is to be engaged in running against Sarah [Iannarone], and Ozzie [Gonzalez] and Teressa [Raiford] and others, I’m really competing against myself in making sure I have that mandate."
Asked why he believed some Portlanders were attracted to Iannarone's campaign, Wheeler also pointed to himself.
"I think a lot of people are attracted to Portland because they see Portland, Oregon as the bellwether for progressive thinking in the United States," Wheeler said. "I do think it is a little bit jarring to people to see this progressive bastion, this guiding light in a wilderness that is dark, is being run by an old white guy who comes from the business community, and an investment background, and from an elite university. I think there is a distrust that is there."
Wednesday's final vote count also finalizes the contenders in two other city runoff elections. Commissioner Chloe Eudaly will square off against Mingus Mapp, a former city employee of the Office of Community and Civic Life (which Eudaly oversees) in November in a race to keep her seat. And former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith will compete against All Hands Raised Director Dan Ryan in an August 11 race to fill the council seat vacated mid-term by Commissioner Nick Fish.