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Politics & Government

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof forms committee for Oregon gubernatorial run

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Janet Van Ham
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After months of very public exploration, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has taken his most meaningful step to date toward running for Oregon governor.

On Tuesday, Kristof officially formed a political action committee, a move that will allow him to raise money and hire staff ahead of a likely official announcement of his candidacy.

“Nick has been exploring for the past few months,” said Carol Butler, a political consultant who has been working with Kristof in a volunteer capacity as he considers a race. Butler somewhat downplayed the significance of the filing, calling it “another step toward a potential run for governor.”

“It allows us to continue exploration,” she said.

Beyond his fame as a Times columnist and author, Kristof in recent years has moved back to the Yamhill, Oregon, farm on which he grew up, and he’s been working to reshape it into a vineyard and cider orchard.

The specifics of that move could come into play as Kristof, 62, gets more serious about the governor’s race; there is speculation that he might not meet the state’s three-year residency requirement for governor, especially because he voted as a resident of New York state last year. Kristof’s campaign believes he will meet that threshold if his residency status is challenged legally.

Kristof is viewed by political consultants and potential candidates as a possible contender for the Democratic nomination. Politics watchers expect he will have enough money to be competitive in a race against House Speaker Tina Kotek, Treasurer Tobias Read and others. Gov. Kate Brown, also a Democrat, is term-limited out next year.

Kristof’s supporters say he also brings an outsider perspective at a time Oregon is facing multiple crises.

“I think that he’ll be a very attractive candidate,” Butler said. “I think he’ll attract the resources he needs to run a very competitive race.”

Kristof’s campaign had not reported any contributions as of Tuesday morning. Among the well-heeled supporters who might support his candidacy is Win McCormack, the Portland-based owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic who wrote glowingly of Kristof’s ambitions last month. McCormack subsequently updated that piece to mention that Butler is his long-time partner.

While much of his career and life has been spent living internationally and on the East Coast, Kristof maintains that he has kept strong roots in Oregon, and has always considered it his home. Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope, a book Kristof co-authored with wife Sheryl WuDunn in 2020, focuses on his childhood classmates in Yamhill, and how their rural upbringing led to sometimes tragic ends.

Boosters such as McCormack believe the perspective that Kristof has gained in his journalistic career — focusing heavily on human rights abuses and addressing poverty — has positioned him to lead at a time when many voters are dissatisfied with the status quo. The state’s establishment Democrats often privately dismiss his chances, pointing out he’s never run for office.

Kristof’s nascent campaign has not offered policy proposals, but an internal campaign memo, quoted by McCormack in his article, suggests he’d partly seek to heal the urban-rural divide that has long caused friction in Oregon. “All these aims work together,” the memo reportedly said. “Bolstering education would make economic development easier, and that can help heal the rift between the Portland area and Eastern Oregon.”

Kristof and Butler declined to provide OPB with a copy of the document.

While considering a run for office, Kristof has taken a leave of absence from his duties at the Times, the paper reported last month.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting.