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Richardson claims secretary of state victory

Republican Dennis Richardson of Central Point was holding onto a 67,000-vote lead late Tuesday night in the race for secretary of state, appearing likely to score a rare victory for a down-state Republican against a Willamette Valley Democrat in a statewide election.

Richardson, a former state representative and gubernatorial candidate, was leading Democrat Brad Avakian, the state labor commissioner, by 4 percentage points.

By phone from Salem, Richardson said he couldn't have won without the support of Democrats who looked beyond party lines.

"The majority have set aside party affiliation," Richardson said. "I'm humbled and I'm grateful for the opportunity to serve."

It will be the first time in more than three decades that a Republican has served as secretary of state, Oregon’s No. 2 statewide office, Richardson said. Norma Paulus, secretary of state from 1977 to 1985, was the last Republican to hold the office.

Oregon, which has 10 percent more registered Democrats than Republicans, last elected a Republican in any statewide race 14 years ago, when former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith was elected in 2002.

With that understanding, Richardson said, he'll approach the role transparently and even-handedly.

"My goal will be to serve as secretary of state in a nonpartisan way," Richardson said.

As of 11:30 p.m., Richardson had garnered 740,131 votes, or 47 percent, against Avakian's 672,423, or 43 percent.

He said he had thought leading up to the vote that victory depended on turnout.

"That's what we were hoping for, a good turnout," Richardson said.

Pacific Green candidate Alan Zundel had 2 percent of the vote, Independent Paul Damian Wells had 3 percent and Libertarian Sharon L. Durbin had 2 percent.

Richardson said he's already thinking about moving into his new role.

"We'll see how the transition goes," Richardson said. "The real work begins Thursday morning."

Richardson was first elected to state House District 4 in 2003 and served six terms representing portions of Jackson and Josephine counties, including one as co-chairman of the powerful Joint Ways and Means Committee. Richardson unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2014 as the Republican nominee against John Kitzhaber, who later resigned.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

Dennis Richardson greets supporters at the Salem Convention Center in Salem Tuesday. Richardson, of Central Point, is the first Republican to be elected secretary of state since the 1980s. AP Photo / Timothy J. Gonzalez