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Tobias Read has big early lead in Democratic race to be Oregon secretary of state

Tobias Read (left) and James Manning were seeking to be the Democratic candidate for Oregon secretary of state.

Tobias Read (left) and James Manning were seeking to be the Democratic candidate for Oregon secretary of state.

Courtesy of the campaigns

Tobias Read appeared to secure the Democratic nomination for secretary of state, according to partial returns.

Read had an overwhelming lead over James Manning with 71% of the vote as of Wednesday morning.

“I feel like that’s good affirmation of the messages that we’ve been trying to communicate about the stability and professionalism we want to bring to the secretary of state’s office,” Read told OPB shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday, “and the need to make sure that everyone has confidence in how votes are counted in Oregon — and that the audit function in the secretary of state’s office is driven by data and not by predetermined political agendas.”

It was a lowkey race for an important office. The secretary of state is charged with overseeing elections and auditing state agencies and they hold a seat on the state’s Land Board and are second-in-line to become governor.

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

While campaigning, both Read and Manning said their primary goal was to restore trust in the office.

The seat was open after the previous elected secretary of state, Shemia Fagan, abruptly resigned last May. Her announcement came after revelations, first reported by Willamette Week, that she had signed a lucrative contract with a cannabis company at the same time her office audited state regulations on cannabis business. The owners of the cannabis company were also high-profile Democratic donors.

Read spent a decade in the state House of Representatives before winning the treasurer job in 2016. He also ran for governor in 2022 and lost in the Democratic primary to now-Gov. Tina Kotek.

While campaigning, Read touted his efforts to create the nation’s first opt-out retirement plan, which he said will help thousands of Oregonians have a retirement fund, a plan called OregonSaves. Read said his work to streamline the state’s unclaimed property program has made it easier for Oregonians to recapture lost assets, such as forgotten bank accounts or old checks. He also noted the treasury department conducts audits too, so he has experience in the arena. He was reluctant to say specific areas where he would audit if he were elected.

But Read said he would like to see his office home in on areas where the state is spending a lot of money and lives are at stake.

Manning spent 24 years in the Army and served as an inspector general. He was appointed to the Oregon Senate in late 2016 and has been reelected twice. His role as Senate president pro tem means he oversees the Senate chamber when President Rob Wagner is absent.

Read will have a role in ensuring the state’s new campaign finance limits take effect successfully in 2027. His office will be charged with improving Orestar, the landing page for tracking campaign finance reporting, which can often be slow and is a cumbersome search tool.

The other Democratic candidates — James Crary, Dave Stauffer and Paul Wells — did not capture many votes.

Read will face Sen. Dennis Linthicum in November. Linthicum can no longer seek reelection to the state Senate after participating in the Senate Republican walkout of 2023.

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