State Rep. Knute Buehler eked out a narrow win in a gubernatorial straw poll held Saturday by the Washington County Republican Party.
Buehler beat retired Naval aviator Greg Wooldridge by just one vote while Bend businessman Sam Carpenter was third.
Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon from Bend, has been the establishment favorite to win the primary and take on Democratic Gov. Kate Brown in the general election.
But he's been struggling to win over Republican activists upset that he's criticized President Donald Trump, described himself as pro-choice on abortion — and has not opposed every gun-control measure that's come before the Legislature.
Wooldridge defeated Buehler at another straw poll held at the annual Dorchester Conference last month. Buehler has downplayed the importance of these straw polls but his supporters were pleased that he was able to win Saturday's vote.
State Rep. Richard Vial, R-Scholls, said he thought some conservative activists predisposed to vote against Buehler changed their minds after hearing him speak.
"I sat next to a few who said, 'Gee, I didn't think I was going to, but I'm voting for Knute,'" Vial said.
Wooldridge said he was pleased to come so close to Buehler despite the fact the latter has been far out-spending the other Republican candidates.
"I think it shows a surge on my part," he said.
Washington County Republican Chairwoman Tracy Honl said her group decided to hold an unusual pre-primary endorsement meeting. Usually, official GOP organizations stay neutral before primaries. But Honl said local officials saw it as a good way to get precinct committee workers more excited about their work.
In any case, the party fell a couple of votes short of having enough participants to make an official endorsement in the governor's race. And in any event, none of the candidates met the 60 percent vote threshold required for an endorsement under party rules.
Honl said she thought that as small as the straw poll vote was — only 75 people participated — she thought it said something indicative about the mood of the 83,000 registered Republicans in the county.
Ballots for the May 15 primary will be mailed to voters later this month.