Cenk  Uygur Unloads on Rivals in Race to Replace Katie Hill in Congress: "I'm Going to Maul Them"

Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon
"I don’t care about the politics of this being a purple district. I’m not going to mitigate my positions or find a middle ground," says Uygur.

The MSNBC alum and co-founder of The Young Turks news site is hoping to take the seat vacated by Hill amid sexual misconduct allegations. One issue: He doesn't live in the district.

Cenk Uygur is itching for a fight. "I say to the Democratic voters of the 25th district: Let me at ’em. Do you want someone who’s going to be polite to the Republicans or do you want someone who’s going to rip their face off?" Uygur told THR on Nov. 16, three days after announcing he’s joining the race to fill the House seat vacated by Katie Hill amid sexual-misconduct allegations.

Uygur’s candidacy — he’s the co-founder of the liberal news site The Young Turks (TYT) and a former MSNBC host — all but guarantees that the race in the swing 25th District, which includes the Hollywood-adjacent Santa Clarita and Simi Valley, will be a media circus. Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who served time in prison for lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, has filed paperwork, and right-wing provocateur Mike Cernovich tweeted that he’s considering a run in the district, which suffered a school shooting on Nov. 14 that left three students dead. A special election has been called for March 3.

One of Uygur’s top rationales for running is that too much corporate money feeds the Democratic establishment. "I’m sick of the corruption," says Uygur, 49, who claimed on Twitter that he’s already raised $300,000 from more than 10,000 donors. "When they take campaign contributions from corporations and lobbyists, there’s a word for that: It’s called a bribe," he says. "And if other people in the Democratic Party were aggressively calling out the bribes and looking to reform the party, then I wouldn’t need to run." He says his platform will include support for Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and tougher gun control measures.

On the Democratic side, Uygur (whose name is pronounced "Jenk You-gur") will be competing against California Assemblywoman Christy Smith, who has already nailed down 40+ endorsements from officials across the state — and Alyssa Milano. Uygur intends to challenge Smith from the left. But his campaign is facing backlash. Critics have been recirculating demeaning comments he made about women in the early 2000s. Those comments, for which he later apologized, got him ousted from the Justice Democrats political action committee (which he co-founded) in 2017.

What’s likely more problematic is that Uygur lives in West L.A. and has never resided in the district. Smith already has seized on the topic. "How about all of you man-spread in your own damn districts," she tweeted.

Responds Uygur: "I get it, but on the other hand, people are obsessed with geography over the issues. Is anyone pressing the assemblywoman on her policies? If you go to her website, there are almost no policies on it."

During her campaign, Hill was a darling of the entertainment industry, raising more than $8 million. Dozens of fundraisers  were held for her by the town’s executive and creative class. Uygur says he won’t get close to raising the dollars Hill did, but says he does enjoy the support of many progressives in entertainment.

"I’ve known Cenk for years — he’s always been a principled progressive advocating for social, racial and environmental justice," actor John Cusack tells THR in an email. Business backers of Uygur’s have included Jeffrey Katzenberg, who in 2017 was part of a consortium that invested $20 million in TYT Network, which attracts 4.5 million YouTube subscribers.

Says Uygur, who will be stepping down from editorial oversight of the site, "I’ve got friends and allies and I hope and believe they will publicly back me."

 

A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.