photo by Matt Davis

MANY ARE WONDERING if the 2010 race for Oregon governor is over before it has begun. Of the two Democratic candidates in the race, former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber already has 8,584 supporters on Facebook, while former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury has just 1,371—if social networking polls are to be trusted. However, the disparities don't stop there.

Kitzhaber, who still has a 10-foot oil painting of himself wearing his signature cowboy boots hanging in the state capitol from his last two terms as governor between 1995 and 2003, held an intimidating press conference on the roof of the Ecotrust building in Portland's Pearl District on Wednesday, September 16.

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger, himself considered a strong candidate for the governor's job once he's proven himself in his current office, spoke of Kitzhaber's "moral conviction" and sense of "moral urgency" in the race. "We can't sit on our hands and wait. We've got to move forward and take action" on issues like health care and job creation, Kroger said.

Supporters aren't surprised by Kitzhaber's rush of popularity.

"I know he will be an incubator of and a champion for the next group of leaders in this state," said State Representative Jefferson Smith, who founded the Oregon Bus Project.

Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler said he was convinced that Kitzhaber not only understands the issues facing the state, but that he has the skills to affect change. A host of other state representatives and city politicians have also signed on to support Kitzhaber, including former Mayor Vera Katz and City Commissioner Randy Leonard.

Bradbury, meanwhile, can only claim former Governor Barbara Roberts as a prominent endorsement. City Commissioner Nick Fish had made friends with Bradbury's campaign on Facebook, but told the Mercury on Tuesday, September 22, that he accepts almost all friend requests and has not made an official endorsement in the race.

Bradbury says he plans to focus on job creation, funding education, and on protecting Oregon's environment if elected. He refutes the idea that the race is one between David and Goliath, adding: "Nobody is entitled to be governor."

Bradbury says he represents all of Oregon, and that his campaign kick-off, going from Salem to Eugene, Medford to Ashland, and Bend to Coos Bay is reflective of a difference in approach between himself and Kitzhaber. "You have to be inclusive, and you have to earn people's support," he says. "And I intend to do just that."

Meanwhile Republican candidate Allen Alley, a semiconductor entrepreneur, has walked through 400 miles of the state since April and Twittered most of the way, but has only garnered 907 fans on Facebook for his efforts. "I'm not intimidated," he says, when asked about Kitzhaber's social networking popularity. "I've been in politics 15 months, John's been at it for 31 years."

Alley's platform is also jobs and education, he says, "but the difference is the background of the candidates. I've been investing in Oregon since 1988 and I know what it takes to compete in a global economy."