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Nicholas Kristof Officially Enters Democratic Primary for Governor

The former New York Times journalist signals he will go right at two experienced opponents.

The former New York Times journalist and Yamhill son Nicholas Kristof made it official this morning: He will challenge House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) and State Treasurer Tobias Read for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Kristof launched his campaign in an interview with KGW-TV’s Laural Porter and with the simultaneous release of a video introducing what will likely be the major themes of his campaign.

One of those themes: Unlike Kotek, who won her legislative seat 2006 and was elected speaker in 2012, and Read, who also entered the Legislature in 2007, he is not a career politician.

“I have never run for political office in my life. But I have spent a lifetime shining a light in the darkest corners of the globe,” Kristof said in his announcement video. “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.”

That dig at his opponents suggests he will run against the Democratic machine that has controlled the governor’s office since 1987, when Gov. Vic Atiyeh was the last Republican to hold that position.

In his video, Kristof sent out a more subtle critique of the power structure: He wore a jacket with the logo of Portland-based Columbia Sportswear, rather than sporting a garment made by California-based Patagonia, as Gov. Kate Brown often does.

A second major theme will be the state’s failure to provide economic opportunity and a resilient safety net for people who have been left behind.

Kristof and his wife, the former New York Times journalist Sheryl WuDunn, explored that failure at book length last year with Tightrope. That book examined why so many of the people Kristof rode the school bus with as a child ended up homeless, jobless or prematurely dead.

“It’s time to do something about a system that’s rigged against so many ordinary Oregonians,” Kristof said in his announcement, which included video of Portland homeless camps.

The Oregon governor’s race often attracts candidates who’ve enjoyed success in other fields and hope to translate their skills to elected office: GOP nominee Chris Dudley, a former professional basketball player, in 2010; former tech CEO Allen Alley in the 2010 and 2016 GOP primaries; and Salem oncologist Dr. Bud Pierce, the GOP nominee in 2016 and a candidate again this cycle.

Although Kristof brings name recognition and a strong social media following to the race, he will doubtless find that the Democratic machine won’t surrender its grip on the governor’s mansion without an all-out war—including what is likely to be intense scrutiny of whether he meets the state residency requirement to run.