Oregon Cities

Craig Roberts holds lead over Tootie Smith for Clackamas County chair, but runoff in play

From left to right, candidates for Clackamas County chair Tootie Smith and Craig Roberts in undated photos provided by the campaigns.

From left to right, candidates for Clackamas County chair Tootie Smith and Craig Roberts in undated photos provided by the campaigns.

Courtesy of the campaigns

Former Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts has an early lead over Chair Tootie Smith in the race to be the next county chair, but it’s a tight result and not yet clear whether Roberts will garner enough votes to avoid a runoff election this November.

Roberts had 51% of the vote as of Tuesday night. Smith, the incumbent, had roughly 38% of the vote. April Lambert registered 10% of the vote in partial returns.

In the three-person race, a candidate must earn an outright majority to win a primary.

The race was a nonpartisan one, but quickly turned political. The two top candidates — Smith and Roberts — are both lifelong Clackamas County residents who have long been fixtures in the county’s political landscape. But the race was as much about politics as it was about personalities.

Related: Primary election updates: Get the latest news and see who’s leading as votes continue to be counted

Smith is a notably uninhibited politician who is not opposed to fanning the flames of controversy. Roberts is a more mild-mannered politician who pitched himself as a good listener and collaborator.

Clackamas County is the state’s third-largest county and is both politically and geographically diverse. It includes up-and-coming Happy Valley and wealthy Lake Oswego as well as smaller towns like Estacada. It stretches from Mount Hood to Milwaukie. Clackamas County has sent both conservative Republicans and more moderate Democratic lawmakers to Salem, and the county commission has vacillated from left- to right-leaning over the years.

The next chair will continue to oversee the building of the new Clackamas County Courthouse, which is expected to cost upwards of $300 million. About half of the cost the state is expected to cover, leaving the county on the hook for the other half. Like much of Oregon, Clackamas County is also grappling with housing struggles.

The job currently pays $127,587 per year.

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