Brayden Olson formally launched his bid for the 8th Congressional District seat, vowing to bring a "new energy" and a "focus on helping middle-class families."
He’s best known for viral news stories claiming many women have mistaken him for a “real-life” version of Christian Grey, the wealthy protagonist of the erotic “Fifty Shades of Grey” book and film.
Now local entrepreneur Brayden Olson is running for Congress — and downplaying the Grey comparisons.
Olson, 29, formally launched his bid on Thursday, joining a pack of Democrats vying to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District. In his announcement, Olson vowed to bring a “new energy” and a “focus on helping middle-class families.”
So about that Christian Grey thing? Olson is distancing himself from the news stories of a couple years ago, which quoted him on the alleged similarities between Grey and himself, outside the bedroom at least.
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“I am not running for Congress to talk about me or a fictional character,” Olson said in an interview this week, saying he’d rather talk about his plans to promote business startups and the looming threat of automation replacing many traditional jobs.
A Business Insider piece published in February 2015 featured Olson explaining that friends had started pointing out his similarities to Grey. While not a billionaire like Grey, the article noted Olson was young and wealthy, and drove a hot luxury car — a BMW i8.
“I think it’s definitely a Christian Grey type of car,” Olson told Business Insider. He provided the publication a photo of the car, along with several shots of himself.
Olson claims he was “blindsided” by all the attention.
But he clearly had played along at the time. In addition to the Business Insider piece, Olson in 2015 did a local video interview in which he said he’d gotten “messages from girls around the world. I have had women fly here to meet me…” He later said he did not date the women.
He added in the video interview: “I find the book inspiring. Christian Grey is a great example of what a young businessperson can accomplish and I like challenges.” But Olson said, like the Grey character, “I have never been in love.”
Olson this week said he tried to use the media attention to promote worthy causes, noting for example that he’d mentioned an anti-domestic-violence campaign in the video interview.
As he prepared to run for Congress this summer, Olson contacted Business Insider to append a new statement on its article in which he said he does not identify with the Grey character. “I regret responding to the cultural meme I was caught up in at the time,” his statement read, adding he had “matured from this experience.”
Olson says he ditched that flashy BMW, telling The Seattle Times he drives a Jeep Grand Cherokee. He said since the Business Insider piece, he hasn’t talked with anyone about the Grey comparisons.
For his political campaign, Olson is emphasizing his modest roots, saying he grew up in a middle-class family in Vancouver, Wash., graduated from Seattle University and went into business, creating a holding company and four tech startups.
He owns a holding company, Wilhelm Enterprises, and is CEO of Recurrence, a Bellevue firm that has made game-like simulations of running a company for use in business schools. While he’s never run for political office, Olson has been involved with local Democratic organizations and worked to encourage millennials to vote.
He’s also been involved with the Miss America organization, helping to judge the Miss Oregon beauty pageant and scholarship contest.
Olson said he’s taking leave from his business to campaign full time and that he has personal resources to devote to the contest. He said he has conducted polling and hired a professional campaign team, including Seattle political consultant Christian Sinderman.
Olson joins several other Democrats who have been campaigning for months in the pivotal 8th District race, which could help decide whether Republicans maintain a majority in the U.S. House. Other Democratic contenders include pediatrician Kim Schrier, former deputy prosecutor Jason Rittereiser, mortgage-business owner Mona Das, and Amazon manager and former congressional aide Toby Whitney.
The 8th District, which runs from the eastern side of King and Pierce counties across the Interstate 90 corridor to Chelan County, has been represented by Republicans since its creation after the 1980 census.
On the Republican side, state senator and three-time statewide candidate Dino Rossi is the leading candidate to succeed Reichert. In nine days after announcing his bid, Rossi raised $578,000 — more than twice any of the Democrats in the race.
Through a spokeswoman, state Democratic Party chair Tina Podlodowski declined to comment on Olson’s entry into the race.