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January 5, 2012 at 2:37 PM

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Bruce Harrell mulls congressional run against Adam Smith

One of the most significant results of Washington's just concluded redistricting process was the creation of a congressional district that will, for the first time, be made of a majority of people of color.

But while some minority activists had hoped that district would be an open seat, it wound up as a reconfigured 9th Congressional District, represented by eight-term Democratic Congressman Adam Smith of Tacoma.

The new 9th is solidly Democratic, stretching from north Tacoma through south King County and taking in Bellevue and Mercer Island. So at first glance Smith seems safe from any Republican challenge.

The question is whether Smith could get a challenge from a fellow Democrat.

Some minority- and immigrant-rights activists have been looking for a person of color who could champion issues of importance to them -- or at least force the moderate Smith to the left.

One possibility is Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell.

Harrell's niece and council campaign manager, Monisha Harrell, confirmed Thursday that Bruce Harrell is considering a congressional run.

"There is a fantastic opportunity," she said of the new district. "He has been approached by a number of people to consider it... It is definitely a serious consideration."

Monisha Harrell acknowledged it would be tough defeating a strong incumbent, but noted her uncle's strong fundraising base and ties to the Seattle and Eastside portions of the new 9th district.

It may be a long shot that he even runs, but Bruce Harrell does have an intriguing background for the new, more diverse 9th.

The son of a Japanese-American mother and African-American father, Bruce Harrell was an attorney for US West and then in private practice before entering politics. At the University of Washington he was a standout defensive football player -- and retains strong connections to UW boosters. His wife, Joanna Harrell, is a manager at Microsoft and a UW regent.

Harrell lives in southeast Seattle and also owns a condo in Bellevue.

Another long rumored possibility, OneAmerica executive director Pramila Jayapal, has ruled out a run, citing a wish to spend time with family.

Jayapal, who was part of the coalition that pushed for the majority-minority district, said a primary challenge for Smith might be good for underrepresented communities in the new 9th.

"I'm not saying I don't think Adam would be a good candidate. But I think that pushing Adam, as well as anyone else who runs in that district, to think about what it means to represent that community, is a good thing."

Smith is clearly aware of the potential threat from the left. Jayapal said he's already reached out to her for support. But she said Smith hasn't yet demonstrated he's a champion of issues important to immigrants and communities of color.

As for Harrell, Jayapal said she's not sure he'd really buck the Democratic establishment by picking a primary fight.

However, she added, "if Bruce or anybody else put their mind to it, I don't think it's inconceivable the right candidate could run a really good race and give Adam something to worry about."

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