- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 10, 2009

SALEM, Ore. | Chris Dudley’s free-throw shots were always iffy propositions. Now the former Portland Trail Blazer is in a new arena, taking aim at a governor’s chair — and Oregon’s Republicans think he can score.

The one-time pro basketball star has not formally announced a bid for the post, but he filed paperwork last week to create a campaign committee.

“I’ll make a decision soon and report back. One way or another, I intend to help change Oregon for the better,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Dudley, 44, wouldn’t be the first professional athlete to make the transition into politics. The late Rep. Jack Kemp of New York was an NFL quarterback, and former Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey was an NBA standout for years.

Oregon’s Republican Party is hoping Mr. Dudley decides to run, betting that voters — especially independents — are looking for a different sort of candidate.

“He’s a solid guy, and Oregonians know that,” said state Republican Chairman Bob Tiernan. “If Dudley wins the primary, the Democrats are going to be in trouble, because he would be a breakout candidate. He is somebody who is dramatically different.”

Most political observers see former Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber as the favorite to reclaim the office in next year’s election, given his popularity with voters and the fact that Oregon’s electorate has been trending more Democratic blue.

Republicans are hoping that Mr. Dudley, with name ID he has built up as a former NBA player, will give them a contender with a degree of star power and fundraising ability for 2010.

Mr. Dudley, despite his reputation as one of the worst foul shooters in NBA history, was considered one of the league’s better rebounders and shot-blockers.

Still, political observer Jim Moore said it would be a stretch to refer to Mr. Dudley as a “former Blazers star,” given that he was never considered one of the team’s best players.

“He’s no Bill Bradley,” said Mr. Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

Nevertheless, there’s no doubt that Mr. Dudley, if he runs, would bring name recognition to the race, given that he had two stints playing for the Trail Blazers, from 1993-97 and from 2001-03.

At age 16, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, and during his career, he was the only active NBA player with diabetes.

Since retiring from the NBA, Mr. Dudley has run a foundation that provides diabetes information and runs sports camps for children with diabetes. He also has been cited for other charitable works, such as giving $300,000 to a foundation that helps students pay for college.

A Yale graduate, Mr. Dudley works with a wealth-management company. He and his wife, Chris Love-Dudley, have three children and live in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego.

If Mr. Dudley announces for governor, it would become a three-way Republican race. The others hoping for the Republican nod are former businessman Allen Alley, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2008, and former state Rep. John Lim.

Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts said Mr. Dudley would likely become the Republican Party front-runner, given that neither Mr. Alley nor Mr. Lim is well-known around the state.

However, Mr. Hibbitts said that as a political newcomer, Mr. Dudley would start at a disadvantage and would have to come up to speed quickly on statehouse issues.

“He can’t afford to look uninformed, and he would have to be careful not to let off-the-cuff remarks get him in trouble,” Mr. Hibbitts said. “Let me put it this way — he better not miss too many free throws.”

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