Cenk Uygur, the founder of the online news network The Young Turks, on Thursday announced his candidacy to fill the congressional seat vacated by Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) last month.
Uygur, who filed documents with the Federal Election Commission this week, said in an interview broadcast on the liberal network that he would not be a “standard politician” in his bid to fill California’s 25th Congressional District but rather hoped to represent “people in a way that they have not seen before.”
“The whole point of my career has been to fight for positive change in the world,” Uygur said. “That’s what I have done on TYT and that’s what I’m going to do in CA-25. I’m going to fight to end corruption and get everyone in CA-25 higher wages!”
Uygur did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment and initially told reporters that he had no comment on his candidacy.
He said Thursday he would transfer editorial control and day-to-day operations of The Young Turks to others at the network but would continue hosting some programs.
Uygur immediately nabbed the endorsement of influential progressive congressman Ro Khanna, a Democrat representing another part of California.
“I respect the work Cenk has done to build a grassroots movement on TYT for supporting Medicare for All, for free public college, and for getting money out of politics,” Khanna said. “Congress needs bold progressives like him. Cenk has my endorsement for his candidacy.”
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal group with a sizable email list, also spoke warmly of Uygur’s candidacy and promised to informs its members he is running ― though the group stopped short of a formal endorsement.
“Cenk is a bold progressive champion and long-time ally with an anti-corruption, pro-worker message that resonates with Democrats, Independents, and Republican voters alike,” PCCC said Thursday in a statement. “Cenk instinctively wants to shake up a corrupt political system by holding Democratic and Republican politicians accountable.”
Hill resigned in October amid claims that she had a relationship with one of her congressional staff members after being sworn into office. The allegation initially circulated on conservative media websites, which also published intimate photos of Hill and details of her relationship with her husband prior to their divorce.
Hill had been seen as a rising Democratic star. She said she was heartbroken by the decision to resign but believed “it is the best thing for my constituents, my community and our country.”
Her former seat is already hotly contested, with candidates on both sides of the aisle throwing their hats into the ring.
The seat is due to be filled in a special election, a date for which California Gov. Gavin Newson is expected to announce shortly. Given California’s nonpartisan jungle primary system ― in which Republicans, Democrats and independents compete for the top two spots ― Uygur’s candidacy is liable to be a source of anxiety for a Democratic Party establishment eager to hold on to a swing seat the party flipped in 2018.
Hill on Wednesday endorsed Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who represents part of the congressional district in the California legislature.
“A local gal flipped a decades-long Rep seat to win by 9 pts,” Hill tweeted. “A local gal is the only one who can keep it blue and the only one the community deserves.”
Uygur, who immigrated from Turkey as a child, was something of a conservative troll as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1990s.
After becoming an attorney, he began working at a Washington law firm but became enamored of televised political commentary. He got his start in media hosting a public access commentary show in Arlington, Virginia.
He began chasing media gigs full time, first in Miami, then Southern California, where he now lives. By the early 2000s, the George W. Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq and other policies had scrambled his politics, turning him into an outspoken liberal.
The Young Turks began as a radio show in 2002 and then started posting videos on YouTube. His impassioned style of liberal commentary, though not exclusively about Bush’s hawkish foreign policy and Democrats accommodation of it, was part of a mid-to-late-2000s boom in online progressive media that included Daily Kos and Talking Points Memo.
Slowly but steadily, Uygur’s makeshift video show turned into a major YouTube network with high production quality, multiple shows and premium advertising rates. As his internet following was growing, Uygur briefly picked up a hosting role on MSNBC but left the network in 2011, claiming he had declined to accept a smaller role when network executives had asked him to tone down his combative demeanor.
The 2016 presidential campaign was something of a watershed moment for Uygur, who co-hosts the network’s live, nightly flagship show with Ana Kasparian. Together, the pair and their fellow on-air personalities became a key source of information and inspiration for supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who were frustrated with mainstream media coverage of his Democratic presidential bid. Sanders had sat down for multiple interviews with the network; on Tuesday, Uygur and Kasparian formally endorsed him.
Following the 2016 election, Uygur picked up steam. Hollywood producer Jeffrey Katzenberg’s holding company invested $20 million in The Young Turks network in August 2017. The YouTube network now has 4.5 million subscribers, making it one of the most influential left-leaning voices on a platform where the right has a larger presence.
But as his fame has grown, Uygur has occasionally courted controversy as well. Justice Democrats, a group founded by Sanders campaign alumni to elect progressives in Democratic congressional primaries, ousted Uygur, a founding board member, in December 2017 after The Wrap unearthed blog posts Uygur authored in the late 1990s and early 2000s that objectified women.
This article has been updated with responses to Uygur’s campaign, as well as with more details about the election.