In 1938, Republican Charles A. Sprague had won an easy victory as governor following a divisive Democratic primary which had seen the defeat of the sitting governor, Charles Martin. That same year, Republican Earl Snell had been re-elected to a second term as Secretary of State.
In 1942, Snell was ineligible for another term, and decided to challenge Sprague's re-election effort. Despite the fact that the Oregon legislature was controlled by his own party, Sprague's progressive stance on numerous issues had caused conflict with the legislature, and he had vetoed special interest legislation put forward by members of his own party. An attempted recall of Sprague had been unsuccessful, but Snell used the issue, along with accusations that Sprague's efforts to efficiently organize the state for World War II had been inadequate, to achieve a comfortable victory in the primary.