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Kristof for Governor?

July 22nd, 2021 by dk

New York Times columnist and native Oregonian Nicholas Kristof is thinking about running for governor in 2022. Willamette Week broke the news over the weekend. “I’m honestly interested in what my fellow Oregonians have to say about that,” he told them. Two days later, the New York  Times confirmed that Kristof is taking a leave of absence while he considers his options.

Here are five reasons why Kristof could be a successful candidate and our 39th governor.

Reason No. 1: He’s famous

Like it or not, name recognition is the first hurdle every statewide candidate must first overcome. Voters are very hesitant to vote for anyone they’ve never heard of. In rural Oregon, where Kristof grew up, they’re hesitant to vote for somebody they’ve never met. A certain reality TV star has shown how far fame can take somebody.

Kristof’s story could be both honest about him and affirming for Oregon. Country boy makes good in the big city, but returns to his roots to give back. You can take the boy out of Oregon, but you can’t take Oregon out of the boy.

Reason No. 2: He’s not a politician

Most candidates for governor build their name recognition by running for statewide office and losing. That formula creates burdens when governing begins. Candidates with a history inside the system can’t help but accumulate obligations.

Outsider candidates have different opportunities. Kristof clearly recognizes this: “All I know for sure is that we need someone with leadership and vision so that folks from all over the state can come together to get us back on track. We need new leadership from outside the broken political system.”

Reason No. 3: He’s smart

Kristof is a Harvard graduate and a Rhodes scholar. He’s won two Pulitzer Prizes. His worldwide readership has come to expect bright ideas from him, whether it’s about stopping genocide in Darfur, curbing sex trafficking, or addressing death-by-desperation in rural America. 

More importantly, he’s the right kind of smart. Being knowledgeable is more dangerous than helpful for a chief executive. Being curious, on the other hand, is an asset too seldom valued or modeled at the top of complex organizations.

Reason No. 4: He’s compassionate

Most of the compelling stories Kristof has brought to his readers over the last 30 years have been about tragedies that could have been averted with better policies. He stands against the belief that journalists should be dispassionate. He follows up, helping organizations that fight the injustices he exposes.

One of his growing concerns is the widening urban-rural divide. He believes deeply that we’re talking past each other, instead of with one another. A political campaign could build bridges across those chasms. Kristof can experiment with what works and what doesn’t to mend that rift — here and across the nation.

Reason No. 5: He can’t really lose

Kristof may not win, but he’ll learn a lot about what could heal this gaping wound that imperils America. If he loses and resumes his day job, he’ll be writing with a newfound moral authority. Run, Nick, run!


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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