A Democratic candidate vying for the congressional seat in California appeared to decide to call it a day on Thursday morning, only to change his mind eight hours later.
In an email to his “friends, voters, and cherished supporters,” Aditya Pai, a 31-year-old Harvard-educated attorney vying for the seat in California’s 45th Congressional District currently held by Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA), announced he was suspending his campaign.
“The reason is simple: a lack of joy,” he wrote.
Pai went on to say that he’d realized his philosophical ambitions were fundamentally in conflict with his political ones. “Life is short,” he opined. “I believe one should enjoy their work. For the past four months, I have not enjoyed mine.”
His heart was “not quite in” the race anymore, he said. “I love the subject matter dearly: politics, law, policy, government. I love helping people. But at least at this moment, I don’t enjoy the life of a politician.”
“And were I fortunate enough to be elected, I am now certain, I would be unhappy in Congress.”
That morning statement was, according to a Thursday afternoon email from Pai, sent out by a person he described as a “now-former aide.”
“Apologies for the scare,” the new email read. “I am not going anywhere.”
The 31-year-old explained that he’d written the first letter “as an emotional processing exercise after an exhausting glimpse into the political machine.”
“I sent it to some mentors and staff for perspective before getting back to work; it was never supposed to be shared.” He added, however, that the feelings expressed in the first email had all been true.
In an interview with the Orange County Register, Pai said he’d recently reached a breaking point. He’d done “a lot of soul-searching where I questioned the system,” as well as his own character, he said. In the end, there seemed to be only two options.
“So the choice was either to end the campaign or to run a campaign that reveals the real me,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and so I drafted two letters and the wrong one got sent.”
Once he realized what had happened, he said, he called his parents and mentors for advice. They told him, “The point of a campaign is not to campaign,” Pai said to the Register. “It’s to get through it so that hopefully I’ll be in a position to serve and serve as I’ve always enjoyed it.”
It took nearly a whole day for the correction to come out because he wanted to “correct the error without disavowing” his initial statement, according to Pai.
“Because the truth is I stand by those words 100 percent,” he said.
The “silver lining” of the first email being sent out, as the second email framed it, is that it opened the floodgates for him to share “even more raw impressions with you soon.”
To the Register, he added, “Our political process is so brutal, and I felt so much pressure to put up this veneer and to be somebody I’m not. And honestly, I’m done doing that.”
Still, the staffer who erroneously emailed the draft statement out had immediately resigned “given the gravity of the mistake,” Pai said.
But it went further—by the end of the day, every staffer barring two had departed Pai’s campaign, he told The Hill in an interview explaining his decision to do a “complete reset.” He cited a “misalignment of values” as the reason for the swath of departures.
Only his website manager and FEC compliance officer remain, according to The Hill.
“I hope it reaches voters,” he said of his new service-oriented message. “I hope it inspires people to worry a little less about endorsements and money and a little more about voters and service.”
Pai first announced his campaign in April, and faces two major opponents in next March’s Democratic primary. Cheyenne Hunt, an activist and attorney aiming to be the first Gen-Z woman in Congress, is currently leading the pack, having raised about $170,000 so far. Another candidate, Kim Bernice Nguyen, has raised just over $151,000.
Pai is in third with nearly $140,000 received in donations.
However, Steel has vastly outstripped all of them, with $2.2 million raised for her re-election campaign to date.