Nathan Vasquez, a centrist and tough-on-crime candidate, beat incumbent Mike Schmidt by 14% in Portland’s district attorney race, underscoring a shift in liberal electorates across the United States.

In a race fueled by voter concerns over homelessness, public drug use and disorder, Vazquez’s tough-on-crime stance challenged Schmidt’s progressive policies.

An April survey found that a significant number of Portland voters believe that homelessness and matters associated with drug use and addiction were among the most critical challenges confronting the city.

Amidst growing numbers of homeless encampments and drug use in Portland, concerns about safety, crime and insufficient police presence were commonly mentioned as significant issues.

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Progressive district attorneys, such as Schmidt, typically advocate for exploring alternatives to incarceration and avoiding prosecution for minor offenses. This approach aims to decrease incarceration rates and combat social inequalities within the criminal justice system.

Schmidt, who took office during the Black Lives Matter protests, announced in the summer of 2020 that he would refrain from prosecuting protesters except in cases involving deliberate property damage, theft or the use or threat of force against another individual.

During his term, Schmidt also created a unit within his office to review prison sentences and wrongful convictions.

Vasquez, whom several police groups have already endorsed, has denounced Schmidt’s protester policy as well as his support of Measure 110, a ballot measure approved in 2020 that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of drugs.

However, Measure 110 was overturned this year by state lawmakers after the national spike in overdose fatalities, reinstating criminal penalties for any amount of drug possession.

Vazquez’s increasing support aligns with a recent election trend over the past four years. Progressive district attorneys and candidates in traditionally liberal areas, ranging from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle, have faced challenges in winning votes due to growing concerns over public safety and homelessness.

Pamela Price, the district attorney in California’s Alameda County, which encompasses Oakland and Berkeley, is facing a recall in November. This comes two years after San Francisco voters removed progressive prosecutor Chesa Boudin.

Similarly, in Seattle, voters elected Republican Ann Davison as city attorney in 2021 over Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who called for the abolition of jails and police.

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