GOP, Dems See Chance at Oregon Governor's Spot

Voters will decide Tuesday who will go head to head in the race to succeed retiring Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, and to give an insight into the presidential battle of 2004.

Six Republicans and five Democrats are vying for a chance to run for governor in a state that was a major battleground in the 2000 election.  Oregon was one of the states that required a recount when George W. Bush and Al Gore faced off in the most fractured election in U.S. history.

Whoever wins Tuesday's race will have the chance to make history in traditionally Democratic Oregon.  Oregon has elected a Democratic governor for the last 20 years.

Right now, the race is shaping up to be a dead heat, political analyst Tim Hibbitts said 

On the Democratic side, former state Supreme Court Justice Ted Kulongoski, active in electoral politics for 28 years and a one-time gubernatorial candidate, has the term-limited Kitzhaber's endorsement and the backing of labor unions.

Former state Treasurer Jim Hill is hoping to be Oregon's first black governor and his race has attracted out-of-state attention and money. Former Multnomah County Commission Chairwoman Bev Stein is the only female running for governor and has a strong grassroots campaign going. 

The latest Oregonian/KATU poll puts Kulongoski in front with 40 percent with Hill and Stein running at 23 and 19 percent respectively. 

Among the GOP, former Portland school board member Ron Saxton and state Labor Commissioner Jack Roberts are so similar in their moderate positions on the issues that party leaders fear that they will split the vote and lawyer Kevin Mannix will become the nominee. Mannix is considered too conservative to be competitive in the general election in this swing state.

The Oregonian/KATU poll found Mannix with 29 percent, Saxton with 27 percent and Jack Roberts with 19 percent.  Saxton, however, may get the upper hand, according to a Portland Tribune/KOIN/KPAM poll, which has Saxton leading within the margin of error at 30 percent with Mannix and Roberts both collecting 27 percent.

Oregon is one of 36 states voting on a governor this year.

The national parties aren't involved in the contested primary races, but both have targeted Oregon as one of the swing states where they plan to help out in the fall gubernatorial campaigns.

The governor's races are important to the national parties because governors are influential in the shaping of national policies on such issues as welfare reform, education and taxes.

Fox News' Kathy Ardleigh and the Associated Press contributed to this report.