You have to be careful when you predict what a politician will do, so the wariness of Oregon's prognosticators in figuring that former Governor John Kitzhaber wouldn't enter the race for his old job this year is understandable. But probably few of Oregon's prognosticators were actually surprised that he didn't.
Kitzhaber's passion, after all, is his health care plan, and running for governor would be a lousy way to promote it. He would be drawn, most of the time, onto other issues; he would lose focus. He could not very directly champion the health care ballot measure he wants to push. On top of that, odds were at least even (probably higher) he'd lose the primary and risk splitting his party in two, in a state where the parties are closely matched. And if he wanted to start a full-fledged gubernatorial campaign, mid-January is awfully late to get in the game, even if you are a former governor.
He certainly accomplished his mission so far, though: Health care options have moved from back burner at least halfway to front burner. He is getting people talking, and that's a start.
Beyond Kitzhaber, what other impacts are likely from today's announcement?
The winner was incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, who now has a straight shot to the nomination. He has competition, of course, both existing in the former of Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson, and prospective in the form of state Senator Vicki Walker of Eugene. But Sorensen appears to have gained little traction, and Walker, who has some profile in the Willamette Valley at least, has been waiting on word from Kitzhaber before making an announcement - giving her a very late start. (She may yet reconsider.) Unless the discontent within the Democratic Party with Kulongoski runs a lot deeper than the activists who have been frustrated with him, the governor should ace his primary.
That would give him improved momentum for November. He's no sure shot; Oregon is too closely divided for that.
But all in all, Friday was a good day for the governor. And maybe for the prospects of a serious heatlh care debate in Oregon.