In this Sept. 19, 2012, file photo, Knute Buehler, speaks during a news conference in Portland, Ore. Front runners have emerged in a packed race to be the Republican nominee for Oregon governor, with the candidates differing sharply on climate change, gun control, and the state's sanctuary status. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Front-runners have emerged in the packed race to be the Republican candidate for Oregon governor, with the standouts differing sharply on issues like climate change, gun control and the state’s sanctuary status for immigrants.

State Rep. Knute Buehler, who leads in name recognition, retired Navy pilot Greg Wooldridge, and businessman Sam Carpenter are the leading GOP contenders. The winner of the May 15 primary will face the likely Democratic nominee, Gov. Kate Brown, in November.

But in the general election, any Republican candidate will have to overcome a built-in disadvantage: Their party trails Democrats by more than 9 percentage points in voter registrations. With neither party holding more than half the state’s registered voters, capturing a significant slice of the 31 percent declared as non-affiliated will be the key to victory in November.

While Oregon voters have historically rewarded moderates, with center-right candidates generally outperforming firebrands, a broad feeling of frustration looms over the race, said Priscilla Southwell, a political science professor at the University of Oregon.

Combined with potentially above-average turnout driven by a heightened focus on politics at the national level, an outsider candidate could have a better chance than in previous primaries, Southwell said.

One voter, a registered Republican in Salem, described similar feelings.

“On the Democratic side, things are too liberal for my taste,” said Paul Webb, 58. “But on the other side, there are plenty of things I don’t want to be associated with,” Webb said, referring to President Donald Trump.

While Buehler’s name sounded familiar, Webb said he doesn’t know any of the candidates’ positions, and that he planned to decide after reading the voters pamphlet.

“I’m not happy with either party,” Webb said, adding that the candidates’ stance on abortion - an issue that’s been prominent in the primary - will likely contribute to his choice....

Buehler supports legal abortion. Although in 2017, he voted against a bill requiring health plans to cover contraceptives and abortion.Wooldridge, who lives in Portland, hopes his opposition to abortion will draw conservatives away from Buehler.“They’re going to come my way,” Wooldridge said. “It’ll be close, I’ll be the first to admit.”Buehler, who ran for secretary of state in 2012, is the most explicitly centrist of the three front-runners.“I think both the left and the right are too extreme,” said Buehler, an orthopedic surgeon from Bend.Buehler leads the field broadly in fundraising, but lost one influential straw poll to Wooldridge.When asked about concerns raised by some fellow Republicans about his absence at several debates and other party events, Buehler pointed to scheduling conflicts.“It’s not like I’m sitting at home watching movies,” Buehler said.Wooldridge, a more conservative latecomer supported by anti-abortion groups, drew attention when he won a prominent straw poll at the Republican Dorchester gathering. He later lost to Buehler in the Washington County straw poll by only a single vote.Carpenter, who has said he was inspired to run for office in part

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