Nicholas Kristof starts reaching out to staff for Oregon run

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Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer-winning New York Times columnist, has been making inquiries to high-level Democrats about staffing his possible bid for Oregon governor.

Kristof’s outreach to campaign consulting firms and advisers has come in recent days, according to three sources familiar with the activity who spoke with POLITICO. And it is the most concrete sign yet that the famous chronicler of human rights around the world is laying the groundwork for a run in his home state.

One source described Kristof’s exploration as in the “mostly high-level” conversation phase, including reviewing polling and focus group data conducted on his behalf to assess his viability. But the source added that Kristof is nearing a decision.

Kristof is coordinating closely with political consultant Carol Butler, whose longtime partner, The New Republic publisher Win McCormack, is one of Oregon’s biggest Democratic donors.

“There is a real hunger for someone like Nick, who voters see as having a fresh way of thinking about problems the state is facing — and is an outsider,” said Butler, whose involvement in a prospective Kristof run has not previously been reported.

“I think he would have the resources to run a very competitive race,” she added.

Kristof’s candidacy would rattle the Democratic primary in a state where most campaigns are won by blue-chip progressives who consolidate support from powerful public sector labor unions and benefit from their major spending. The columnist, who grew up on a cherry and sheep farm in Yamhill County — about an hour southwest of Portland — could also test a longstanding urban-rural divide. Most successful Democratic candidates have been able to run up their share of the vote in the Portland metro area and around Eugene, in Lane County.

But in a sprawling field of traditional politicians, a winner could emerge with around 30 percent of the vote, Oregon Democratic operatives said, creating a potential path for Kristof.

The Democratic primary will be an open race because Gov. Kate Brown is term-limited.

Earlier this week, state Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek announced that she would run for governor. Kotek, a close ally of influential unions, is the most prominent candidate to launch a bid so far.

Other potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates include state Treasurer Tobias Read, who is viewed as more moderate, and state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who positioned her office as Oregon’s bulwark against former President Donald Trump.

Rosenblum has told people she doesn’t feel under any timeline to decide, but several Oregon Democrats said the pressure on candidates to launch bids has grown in recent weeks, creating competition to build out their organizations and donor network in the state.

Whomever wins the Democratic primary would be the heavy favorite in November 2022. Democrats have had comfortable margins of victory the past decade in gubernatorial races, and now-President Joe Biden won the state by about 16 points in 2020.

Along with talking to potential advisers and donors, Kristof has made other moves that signal he’s getting closer to a gubernatorial run. He sought out a legal opinion from the powerhouse Democratic legal firm Perkins Coie that asserts he meets the residency requirement to run for governor — an opinion he shared with Willamette Week.

One of the attorneys who prepared the opinion, Misha Isaak, was a former general counsel to Brown.

Butler told POLITICO that voters are not so concerned about residency questions, based on the polling, and are far more focused on issues affecting them like homelessness, income inequality, housing costs and climate change.

“Nick Kristof is an Oregonian,” Butler said. “He lives here. This has always been his home. And he understands Oregon and the problems facing the state.”

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