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Gov. Kate Brown has easy path ahead to election

SALEM — Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat who inherited the governorship after her predecessor quit amid a federal investigation, appears to be so confident that she'll win the May 17 primary that she has barely campaigned.

Experts agree, predicting an easy win for Brown, a former secretary of state, in both the May 17 primary and the November election in this predominantly democratic Western state.

Brown has five Democratic rivals — a ICU physician, an environmental engineer, a home care worker, a Walmart employee and a truck driver. Few Oregonians have ever heard of them.

Running for the Republican nomination are four candidates, including businessman Allen Alley, who unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2010, and Salem oncologist Bud Pierce

"She should win her job outright in November," Benjamin Gaskins, assistant professor of political science at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon, said of Brown.

The governor lists raising the minimum wage, guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers, increasing education funding by 9 percent and signing in a law that will eliminate coal power in Oregon as among her major accomplishments in her 14 months in office.

While Brown faces no real challenger on the Democratic side, the leading Republican contenders are busy bickering with each other over their conservative creds.

"Alley and Pierce accuse each other of being Democratic Party lackeys," Gaskins said. Alley was a deputy chief of staff to a former Oregon governor, a point made fun of in a Pierce campaign video. For his part, Pierce testily announced: "Regardless of what Alley said in his political ads, I have never endorsed 'Obamacare' ..."

The winner of the November election will serve out the two remaining years of former Gov. John Kitzhaber's term. Kitzhaber resigned in February 2015 amid allegations that his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, did private consulting work for organizations seeking to influence state policies. A federal investigation is ongoing.

Southwell said she also doubts any of the Republicans have much of a chance to defeat Brown in November.

"There are a lot more newly registered Democrats in Oregon, young people who wanted to register to vote for Bernie Sanders, frankly, but this brought them into the electorate," the University of Oregon professor said.

While Brown carried through on some of Kitzhaber's and the Democrats' agenda on coal and the minimum wage, she may be planning new initiatives if she wins, said Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon.

"She has said that she needs, in effect, a mandate from the people to take off in her own direction."

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is sworn in as Oregon Governor by Oregon Chief Justice Thomas A. Balmer in Salem on Feb. 18, 2015. AP Photo