PORTLAND -- State Rep. Brad Witt said Tuesday he will challenge embattled Oregon Congressman David Wu in the Democratic primary.
Witt joins Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian in vying for the seat of the seven-term congressman.
"This is something I've had my eye on for a long time, and I have been waiting until it was my turn to make a run at this office," said Witt, who lives in Clatskanie.
Witt, 59, is a former secretary-treasurer of the Oregon AFL-CIO and a former economist for the union's national organization. His relationships with union leaders and activists could help him raise money and support among a key constituency in the Democratic Party. He has represented northwestern Oregon in the state House since 2005, serving a district stretching along the Columbia River from Sauvie Island to Astoria. He said he will officially announce his candidacy Thursday while doing a tour of the five counties in the 1st Congressional District.
Wu has been dogged by reports this year about his mental health and erratic behavior leading up to the November election. Those reports have led a number of Democrats to criticize Wu, including former gubernatorial candidate Bill Bradbury who called Wu "damaged goods."
Wu has acknowledged that his behavior, including angry speeches and late-night emails that he signed with his children's names, led several key staffers to quit. He says he has sought treatment and blamed his behavior on stress. He said he was treated with medication and counseling.
"I take every opponent seriously, but right now my only focus is on serving my constituents by bolstering Oregon's innovation economy, fighting for Oregon's priorities in our ongoing budget debate, and protecting Medicare for Oregon seniors," Wu said in a statement.
Witt formed an exploratory committee in May to examine a run. More primary challengers could make it easier for a splintered vote that would benefit the incumbent, but Witt says "it is an open field at this point."
"It's critically important that the citizens of Oregon's first Congressional District have someone who represents them in Congress ... as opposed to someone who is making headlines based on issues that are unrelated," Witt said.
Witt, who is divorced, said his two children are grown and supportive of his decision.
Witt's decision to run was influenced by the publicity surrounding the incumbent's behavior, and Witt doesn't want the seat to fall into Republican control, said Witt's campaign director, Katherine Pfeiffer.
Democrats have a comfortable voter registration advantage in the district. But new boundaries for the district approved by the state Legislature reduce the clout of heavily Democratic Multnomah County, marginally improving Republican chances.
Democratic State Sen. Suzanne Bonamici has also said she is seriously weighing a run.
Two Republicans, Pavel Goberman and Stephan Brodhead, have filed papers with the Federal Elections Commission to run for the seat.