In Oregon, Democrat John Kitzhaber looked to join Jerry Brown as another former West Coast governor to reclaim an office he held years before. Standing in his way early Wednesday was the formidable 6-foot-11 frame of former NBA center and Republican challenger Chris Dudley.
At 12:30 a.m., with 81 percent of the state reporting, Dudley led by roughly 15,000 votes, or about 1 percent. Whatever the eventual outcome, this will be the closest election since 1956
, when Democrat Robert Holmes defeated Republican Elmo Smith by just 8,599 votes.
As in recent statewide elections, rural areas in eastern Oregon voted uniformly for the Republican candidate. In ueber-liberal Portland and Multnomah County, Kitzhaber is leading Dudley with a resounding 70 percent. But outside that urban enclave, in the counties running south through the Willamette Valley, voters were more evenly split between the two.
For Kitzhaber, Tuesday's election was a chance to return to Oregon's highest executive office, a position he held in two previous terms, from 1995 to 2003. Before his political career, the former governor had worked in another high-stakes field, emergency medicine. While still a practicing physician, Kitzhaber entered politics with an election to the Oregon House of Representatives. He then served three terms in the state senate and eventually pioneered the state-run Oregon Health Plan in 1993.
In Dudley (pictured), Oregonians were offered a candidate with a starkly different resume. Dudley played for the Trailblazers from 1994-1997 and again from 2002-2003. This year's campaign marked his entry into political life, but the rookie attracted significant investment from the Republican Governors Association and proved to be a formidable fundraiser, compiling $7.8 million to Kitzhaber's $4.1 million. Throughout the summer and fall, polls remained tight
, but Dudley maintained a two-to-one lead in fundraising over his more politically seasoned opponent.
Early Wednesday morning, Dudley was poised to become Oregon's first Republican governor since 1982.