With Nicholas Kristof Out of the Democratic Primary for Governor, Where Will His Supporters Go?

The top two remaining Democrats, Tina Kotek and Tobias Read, would both like to grab Kristof partisans.

When the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the disqualification of Democratic candidate for governor Nicholas Kristof on Feb. 17, it marked a reset for the May primary.

The seeming beneficiary of Kristof’s political demise: the likely front-runner, former House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland), who no longer faces a well-funded insurgent aggressively criticizing the state’s performance under her leadership.

Even before the ink was dry on the court’s ruling, however, Kotek had a rougher than expected time securing the endorsement of a key labor union.

Delegates from the Oregon Education Association met remotely Feb. 19—but unlike Service Employees International Union, which came out strongly for Kotek last month, the teachers struggled to make a choice.

No candidate got a majority on the first ballot, according to an OEA spokesperson, sending the vote to a runoff for the first time since 2006. Ultimately, Kotek eked out 51% of the vote.

Now, she and State Treasurer Tobias Read will compete for the party faithful—and Kristof partisans.

One obvious question is where Kristof’s supporters will land.

Although most of the $2.75 million the former journalist raised came from out of state, Kristof secured contributions from more than 6,500 Oregonians—far more than either of his opponents.

We asked some of them: What now?

Dan Clay: The president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555 made an early and bold statement in November, when his union’s political action committee gave Kristof his largest donation ($75,000). Clay makes no effort to hide his feelings about Kristof’s disqualification.

“Last week’s ruling was a powerful defense of establishment politics,” Clay says. “The only winners are the stale ideas of the status quo upon which Oregon’s problems will continue to comfortably rest. The real losers here are Oregonians, who once again will have only politics as usual as an option on their ballot.”

Clay adds that the union is still pondering whether to seek a refund of its contribution. “Neither UFCW 555 nor Mr. Kristof thinks that this calls for snap decisions made in the heat of the moment,” he says.

Glen Van Peski: Van Peski is a Bend resident and the founder and chairman of Gossamer Gear, which makes backpacking equipment. His contribution ($10,000) was among Kristof’s largest from an Oregon resident.

“I switched my party registration [from Republican] so I could vote for Nick in the primary, but I’ll be switching it back now,” Van Peski says. “Nick is a friend from backpacking, and while we hold different opinions in many, maybe even most areas, I have found him through the years to be committed to making the world better.”

Van Peski says he’s not looking for his money back. “If I trust Nick with the future of Oregon,” he says, “I sure trust him with my contribution.”

Peter Bragdon: A longtime Democratic insider, the former chief of staff to Gov. Ted Kulongoski, and now general counsel at Columbia Sportswear, Bragdon was an early Kristof backer ($5,340).

“If I hadn’t been flying home at the time, I would have made a donation to Betsy [Johnson] within minutes of reading the Supreme Court’s opinion,” Bragdon says. “She has been a family friend for as long as I can remember and someone I have worked closely with over the years. I have now contributed to her.”

Bragdon says Kristof and Johnson have a similar appeal: “They are obviously very different in their views, but I am not looking for someone I agree with all or most of the time. I am looking for a fresh approach to the governorship and someone whose judgment I can trust.”

John Russell: Another longtime Democratic insider, downtown Portland real estate investor Russell currently holds one of the most coveted gubernatorial appointments in the state: a seat on the Oregon Investment Council. Russell was one of the few non-journalists at Kristof’s post-decision press conference last week. He also donated office space to the candidate for a total contribution of $6,052.

“Kristof attracted me because he’s the only candidate that gave me hope for a positive future for Oregon,” Russell says. “I absolutely would like him to run again. I think he was qualified to be on the ballot and to be a dominant figure in Oregon politics.”

Unlike other Kristof supporters, Russell plans to support a Democrat in the May primary—he just won’t say which one.