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Nick Kristof endorses Tina Kotek for governor, as candidates consolidate support

Nick Kristof at his family farm in Yamhill, accompanied by the family dog, Connie, Jan. 14, 2022.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff
Nick Kristof at his family farm in Yamhill, accompanied by the family dog, Connie, Jan. 14, 2022.

Nick Kristof made a brief gubernatorial campaign out of railing against entrenched Oregon Democrats. Now he’s endorsed one.

The Democrat and former New York Times columnist on Thursday came out in support of former House Speaker Tina Kotek, who clinched her party’s nomination for governor in a convincing fashion two days earlier.

“Oregon faces huge challenges, and we need real leadership. That’s Tina Kotek,” Kristof said in a statement released by Kotek’s campaign. “On housing, homelessness, education, she has actually led and made a real difference for Oregonians. That’s why I’m delighted to support her.”

The sentiment might surprise those who remember past statements from Kristof. Earlier this year, the well-known journalist was considered a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, and had shown he had a nationwide base of supportershappy to fund his run.

Kristof’s rhetoric in that campaign often seemed aimed squarely at Kotek, who served as the state’s longest-ever House speaker before stepping down in January.

“Nothing will change until we stop moving politicians up the career ladder year after year, even though they refuse to step up to the problems Oregon faces,” he said in an early campaign video.

Later, as he faced a challenge to whether he met the state’s three-year residency requirement for governor, Kristof railed against “an entrenched political class in Oregon that has found it threatening that I have raised more money than my Democratic rivals.”

Even after Kristof was disqualified from running, his household showed an anti-Kotek bent. Kristof’s wife, the author and business executive Sheryl WuDunn, endorsed State Treasurer Tobias Read in the Democratic race.

On Thursday, though, Kristof hailed Kotek as a “bold thinker” on issues like housing, addiction and climate change. The pair toured an addiction recovery center in Portland together earlier in the day, according to a release.

“Leadership in part is about being willing to make tough choices,” Kristof’s statement said. “Tina Kotek can do that. She’s focused on the needs of people all across the state.”

News of the support comes as candidates in the three-person gubernatorial field are beginning to solidify support in preparation for what is likely to be a bruising and expensive general election. Besides Kotek, Republican Christine Drazan and unaffiliated candidate Betsy Johnson are also likely to mount strong campaigns.

Johnson, a former Democratic state senator widely expected to gather enough signatures to make the November ballot, announced some notable support of her own Thursday. Former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat, and former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, a Republican, are both backing her candidacy.

“From the homeless crisis to public safety, to our schools, and to the urban-rural divide, our next Governor will have some big problems to solve,” the pair said in a statement released by Johnson’s campaign. “We are in complete agreement that Betsy Johnson is the best person to solve those problems.”

There’s a difference between Kristof’s endorsement and that of Kulongoski and Smith: Kristof is still sitting on more than a million dollars from his scuttled campaign. Kristof said in an email Thursday the bulk of that money would not be going to Kotek.

“I will be making donations from my PAC, including one to Tina Kotek, but am hoping to use the bulk of the PAC money for a specific project that would address many of the needs of left-behind Oregonians,” Kristof wrote. “I’ve been working on this project for several months, but it’s complicated to put together. Stay tuned.”

Copyright 2022 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for KLCC. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.