We got the word on Sunday night about Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian talking, this morning, about whether he will run for Congress. Sounded like a last-minute deal; maybe he'd be announcing an exploratory committee. The campaign semi-apologized for the late word, and the room it had obtained for the announcement was small, suggesting they didn't expect much of a crowd.
The indicators were misleading. Avakian turned out to be all in - this was an announcement that he's running for the House seat held now held by fellow Democrat David Wu. He had campaign staff at the read, even a campaign logo on the handouts - and a large stack of envelopes of campaign contributions. And the small room was packed with 60 or so people; discounting for maybe a dozen media types, that was a fairly large and enthusiastic turnout for a primary challenge.
He had a solid group of endorsers present, including Metro President Tom Hughes (there was a cute story about how Hughes was teaching the high school class where Avakian met his wife), and Roy Jay, the president of the area African American Chamber of Commerce. And, maybe most notable (in this challenge to Wu), Stephen Ying, executive director of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. A longish list of endorsers also included people like House Majority Leader Dave Hunt and a number of local government officials. Such a long roster of endorsers isn't usual for an in-party challenger of an incumbent officeholder.
But the situation is unusual. Wu has had a series of personal problems and incidents over the last year or so, unusual or hard-to-explain behavior, and a high number of departures of key staff, and all of it very visibly reported (especially in the Oregonian). He has made little progress since putting those concerns to rest. The Avakian announcement was a clear indicator that many of the leading Democrats in the area aren't conmfortable with Wu continuing as the 1st district flagbearer.
Ad the early announcement sounds like a signal that many of them have decided to sign on with Avakian, probably foreclosing the possibility of a splintered field of major challengers.
Avakian and his endorsers didn't much mention Wu at all, saying only that the district was in need of "tough and effective" representation, not just the right decisions on floor votes. (Probably wouldn't be a lot of daylight between Avakian and Wu on those.) The closest to a shot at Wu was when Avakian said he planned to hold plenty of meetings around the district, everyone was welcome and "you won't need an appointment" - a reference to Wu's recent one-by-one, by-appointment series of meetings with constituents.
The decision not to has on Wu at the announcement, or likely in upcoming events, is easy enough to understand: Avakian is seeking support from many of the same people who have been voting for Wu, and wants to talk about his own agenda, which he outlined effectively this morning. There's also the possibility that Wu might opt out if he isn't pushed too hard (though his recent announcement of substantial campaign contributions last quarter would argue against any soon opt-out).
That kind of a hard to head may be coming, though. Avakian is now asking his fellow Democrats to fire the Democrat who has represented them in Congress for more than a decade. At some point, if Wu stays in, he's going to have to deeper into the sticky question of why they should do that.
UPDATE: Avakian's web site is up.