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Ex-Trail Blazer eyes governor race

SALEM — 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.

Dudley hasn't 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.

Dudley, 44, wouldn't be the first professional athlete to make the transition into politics. The late Congressman 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 GOP is hoping 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," says 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 Dudley, with name ID he's built up as a former NBA player, will give them a contender with a degree of star power and fund-raising ability for 2010.

Dudley, despite his reputation as one of the worst foul shooters in NBA history, was considered one of the league's better rebounders and shotblockers.

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

"He's no Bill Bradley," said Moore, who teaches political science at Pacific University in Forest Grove.

But there's no doubt that Dudley, if he runs, would bring name familiarity 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 was the only active NBA player with diabetes during his career.

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

A Yale graduate, Dudley currently 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 Dudley does announce for governor, it would become a three-way race Republican race. The others are former businessman Allen Alley, who ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer in 2008, and former state Rep. John Lim.

Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts said Dudley would likely become the GOP frontrunner, given that neither Alley nor Lim are well known.

But Hibbitts said that as a political newcomer Dudley would start at a disadvantage and would quickly have to come up to speed 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," Hibbitts said. "Let me put it this way — he better not miss too many free throws."