Kristof works closely with policy advisor Carol Butler, whose long-time partner The New Republic Publisher Win McCormack, is one of Oregon’s largest Democratic donors.
“There is a real hunger for someone like Nick, who is seen by voters as a new way of thinking about the problems of the state – and who is an outsider,” said Butler, whose involvement in a prospective Kristof run has not yet been reported .
“I think he would have the resources to have a very competitive race,” she added.
Kristof’s candidacy would rock the Democratic primary in a state where most of the campaigns are won by blue-chip progressives who consolidate the support of powerful public sector unions and take advantage of their major spending. The columnist, who grew up on a cherry and sheep farm in Yamhill County – about an hour southwest of Portland – also tested a longstanding urban-rural divide. Most of the successful Democratic candidates were able to increase their voting power in the greater Portland area and around Eugene in Lane County.
But in a vast field of traditional politicians, a winner could emerge with about 30 percent of the vote, Oregon Democratic activists said, creating a potential path for Kristof.
The Democratic primary will be an open race as Governor Kate Brown has a term in office.
Earlier this week, State Democratic House spokeswoman Tina Kotek announced that she would run for governor. Kotek, a close ally of influential unions, is the most prominent candidate to date.
Other potential Democratic gubernatorial candidates include the more moderate treasurer of the state, Tobias Read, and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who has positioned her office as Oregon’s bulwark against former President Donald Trump.
Rosenblum has told people she doesn’t feel under a schedule for a decision, but several Oregon Democrats said pressure on candidates to post bids has increased in recent weeks, leading to competition in building their organizations and their donor network in the state.
Whoever wins the Democratic primaries would be the big favorite in November 2022. The Democrats have had a comfortable lead in gubernatorial races for the past decade, and current President Joe Biden won the state by around 16 points in 2020.
In addition to talking to potential advisors and donors, Kristof has taken other steps that signal that he is nearing a gubernatorial run. He obtained legal advice from the powerful Democratic law firm Perkins Coie, which claims he meets the residency requirements for running for governorship – an opinion he does shared with Willamette Week.
One of the attorneys who prepared the opinion, Misha Isaak, was a former Brown General Counsel.
Butler told POLITICO that because of the polls, voters are not as concerned about residence issues and are much more focused on issues such as homelessness, income inequality, housing costs and climate change.
“Nick Kristof is an Oregonian,” said Butler. “He lives here. This has always been his home. And he understands Oregon and the problems of the state.”