In March 1919, Oregon governor James Withycombe died in office, just two months into his second term. As prescribed by Oregon law, Oregon Secretary of State Ben Olcott succeeded Withycombe in office. In 1922, Olcott announced that he would seek a full term in office.
In the early 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan had become a powerful political force in Oregon. Olcott refused to endorse the Klan, and shortly before the Republican primary, issued an executive proclamation against the organization for terrorist acts conducted by its members which included mock hangings. Olcott's actions nearly cost him the Republican nomination to the Klan-backed candidate, state senator Charles Hall.