Brad Avakian to challenge embattled Oregon Rep. David Wu

at 04:13 PM ET, 04/18/2011


Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) has his first primary challenger. (Don Ryan - AP)
Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian announced today that he will challenge embattled Rep. David Wu in next year’s Democratic primary, setting up an intraparty clash that will likely revolve around the Congressman’s much-publicized mental health issues.

“I’ve lived in the district since I was small boy, and it’s become increasingly clear recently that we don’t have the kind of effective representation that we really need to have,” Avakian told the Fix shortly after his announcement. “This isn’t something that’s come on the spur of the moment because of the recent revelations.”

But, Wu’s political vulnerability has increased dramatically since several incidents raising questions about his fitness for office have come to light — most notably a pattern of bizarre behavior in the runup to the 2010 election.

Avakian has hired a top political adviser in Jake Weigler, who ran Sen. Ron Wyden’s 2010 campaign. A former state senator, Avakian ran for secretary of state in 2007 but dropped out of the race to take over the labor department. He’s already racked up dozens of endorsements.

Avakian could draw support from his ties to organized labor in the primary against Wu. Avakian says he’s talked over the race with labor leaders and heard “very encouraging things ... some of them approached and asked me to consider doing this.”

Arthur Towers, political director of the Oregon branch of the Service Employees International Union, said the group had enjoyed a “tremendous working relationship” with Avakian but added that Wu has been a major advocate for workers as well.

Avakian is from Beaverton, a city of almost 90,000, and he’s been involved in the community for years. Among other initiatives, he co-founded the Washington County chapter of the Oregon League of Conservation Voters in 1999. He’s also Armenian-American, which could help him fundraise across the country.

Wu lives in the much larger city of Portland, about half of which is in his district. He’s had success in tapping the Asian-American community for campaign cash, with many of his donors coming from outside the state.

The 1st district is staunchly Democratic, which in part explains how Wu has held the seat — he’s been in office since 1998 — despite a number of bad headlines over the years. A Republican hasn’t been elected there since the 1970s. Republicans in the legislature are trying to split the city from the suburbs in redistricting, but they are unlikely to succeed.

Former state Rep. Greg MacPherson of Lake Oswego is also interested in running. There’s also talk about state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici of Beaverton. She’s on the committee in charge of redistricting, so she might not want to announce a congressional campaign while drawing district lines.

A poll released by KATU in March found that 46 percent of voters in Wu’s district think he should resign in the wake of very high-profile incidents involving his mental heath.

“Right now, Congressman Wu’s only focus is on serving his constituents well, but he certainly looks forward to a spirited discussion about the issues that matter to Oregonians,” said spokesman Eric Dorey. Wu is “absolutely” running for reelection, Dorey added.

 
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