Can Nick Kristof Really Win the Oregon Governor’s Race?
Nick Kristof talks about his candidacy for governor.
Photo: Sara Cline / AP / Shutterstock
When longtime New York Times Journalist and columnist Nicholas Kristof has left the Gray Lady and announced a campaign for governor of his native Oregon, raising eyebrows among his readers and fellow journalists. Was it a project of transition to retirement (Kristof is 62 years old), the fulfillment of a private fantasy, or even a sign of pride? After all, he’s best known as an international business writer and crusader, winning Pulitzers for his coverage (along with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn) of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1990 and the Darfur genocide in 2006.
But Kristof is also famous on a family cherry farm in rural Yamhill, Oregon, and has often written about the tragedies of unemployment, homelessness and drug addiction that have plagued many of his friends. childhood and residents of other rural communities and small towns. hard hit by globalization and left for dead by the Zeitgeist. Last year, he and WuDunn published a book (later turned into a documentary) on the subject, based in part on his examination of conditions at Yamhill. And it’s a theme he picks up without a beat in the video he posted announcing his first candidacy:
It’s an interesting story, okay, one that ties his international experience back to his trip back to Oregon. But can it really work in a statewide election? Is “Kristof for Governor” going to be an effort New Yorkers care more about than Oregonians who will judge him at the polls (or by mail, in this 100 percent postal ballot state)? Is he a serious candidate?
In a word, maybe. Yes, he is vulnerable to the charge of packing a bag of rugs and descending in his home state from the heights of a journalistic profession that is not much more respected than politics these days. The fact that he voted in New York in 2020 will be mentioned often by his rivals and detractors. But on the other hand, Oregon is a state in the throes of a sort of leadership vacuum and grapples with precisely the kind of issues Kristof seems ready to tackle. Limited-time Democratic Governor Kate Brown is very unpopular. There is no obvious heir among Democrats, and Oregon’s divided and overwhelmed Republicans appear unable to win the governorship for the first time since 1986.
Portland, the city that has traditionally dominated the state and especially the Democratic Party, is now widely seen as being in a poorly managed state of crisis. John Horvick of public opinion firm DHM Research told me that after years of viewing economics and education as the dominant public policy issues for Oregonians, they have currently been overshadowed by “homelessness. , affordable housing and crime, ”with anti-Portland sentiment growing even in this city’s suburbs. It should be noted that Kristof’s most blatantly formidable rival, Oregon House President Tina Kotek, represents a Portland district and is seen as a favorite of the powerful (and oftentimes felt) workers’ unions in the United States. State. While only about 20 percent of the votes will come from non-metropolitan areas, Kristof’s small town past could give him a base to build from.
In terms of Kristof’s strategy, it is important to understand that while the three Pacific Coast states are now embracing near-universal postal voting (or as his supporters prefer, “at home”, since many ballots are being passed. deposited rather than posted), Oregon differs in crucial respect from California and Washington, which abolished party primaries in favor of a first-two system. Oregon has firm party primaries, prohibiting the participation of unaffiliated voters. There is also no majority vote requirement to win the primaries. With just over a third of Oregon voters being registered Democrats, and given a multi-candidate field with Kotek and state treasurer Tobias Read already underway, that means someone could win. with a relatively small portion of a relatively gray-haired and well-educated primary electorate. But the landscape also means that independent voters who might be drawn to Kristof as an “outside” candidate will not be a factor until the general election. Although the journalist is generally known as a progressive, he made comments on the “culture of cancellation” which may alienate some progressive voters while attracting moderates.
Whoever gets the Democratic nomination will be the frontrunner for odds of winning in November, even in a Republican-leaning midterm cycle, though the situation is complicated by the independent candidacy of centrist Democratic lawmaker Betsy Johnson, who has a number large number of followers.
It is not known if Kristof has a viable plan to fund his campaign, although he is well positioned to build a national base of small donors rooted in his Times readership. And no one at this point knows how well it will perform in retail campaigns. The flip side of being an “outside” celebrity is that any blunder he commits will immediately attract attention. And the campaign will be more of a sprint than a marathon: the primary takes place in May, with postal voting starting a few weeks earlier.
Oregon is a precedent-setting state for journalists turned politicians. Two-term Governor Tom McCall (1967-75) was a print, radio and television reporter before entering politics. And before he became a US Senator in 1955, Richard Neuberger was a reporter for – wait – the New York Times. Maybe Kristof can make it an Oregon tradition.