For the son of Indian immigrants, Ashwin Madia’s story is quintessentially American. A graduate from the University of Minnesota and New York University Law School, Ashwin enrolled in the US Marine Corps and served 2 of his 4 years there in Iraq. After returning from Iraq Ashwin worked as an attorney with a respected law firm in Minneapolis before deciding to run for Congress from the Third District of Minnesota against Republican Erik Paulsen, a very strong opponent.
His already close race received another inadvertent jolt recently. In the Sixth District, Republican Michelle Bachmann’s campaign was badly hurt when she made a statement asking for “media investigation” into members of Congress for their “Pro” or “Anti” American views. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) decided to pull money out of her campaign and flood the neighboring districts instead.
I spoke to Ashwin on a hurried phone conversation squeezed into the candidate’s tight schedule.
Given your on-the-ground experience in Iraq, what is your sense of what we should do there?
AM: I think there are many brave people on both sides building a better country. The Iraqi judicial officers and soldiers were the bravest people. The US bears some responsibility to leave Iraq in a better shape than when we went in and not abandon it. I favor a strategic and gradual withdrawal from Iraq. I am not happy about a fixed timetable like other people but we don’t have the resources to stay there indefinitely. We should be responsive to conditions on the ground.
What is the climate for immigrants in Minnesota?
AM: I was born in Boston and moved all over the country growing up till the family settled in Minnesota. The people in Minnesota are decent and kind. Minnesota is accepting of people from all different backgrounds.
What is your biggest challenge this election season?
AM: The biggest challenge is taking complicated ideas about complex issues and trying to transform them into 30 second sound bites; trying to share my ideas in the kind of mass media-driven market that exists today.
Tell me, in a 30 second sound bite, why you are running for office.:)
AM: I am running because we have the greatest country in the entire world. We need the courage to come together and courage to change; change the economic policy, restore oversight over the financial policy, balance the budget, aim for energy independence. We need investments in education and a responsible end the Iraq war.
What is the most important issue for your constituents?
AM: The economy is the only issue in this state.
Are you being helped by the coattails of the Democratic grassroots movement this election?
AM: My district is kind of unique in that it is very educated. The coattail effect is very minimal.
What are your internal polls showing?
AM: That we’re up by 4. It is going to be a very, very tight race.
If the $150 million raised by Senator Obama is making you leery of any more donations to the Presidential race, help out Ashwin Madia by donating at http://madiaforcongress.com. Down ballot races help elect more Democrats to Congress and give the president a clear mandate to achieve a progressive agenda.
IBNLive in India ran this story this morning with visuals. You can see the video on their website, IBNLive.com.
Here is an excerpt.
“Indian-American Democrat Ashwin Madia, a former Marine and Iraq War veteran, is running for a seat in the US Congress from a Republican stronghold in Minnesota against Erik Paulsen.
If elected, he would be just the third Indian-American ever elected to Congress.
Latest polls show him leading his Republican opponent. Now, videos have surfaced of local Republicans attacking him for not belonging to the mainstream.
“From a demographic standpoint, Eric Paulsen fits this district very well,” Ron Carey, Minnesota Republican Party Chairman, is seen telling in a video on Youtube.
However, Madia’s campaign is hopeful these smears won’t stick.
“People don’t care what race I am and what ethnicity I am. What they want is a new direction for our country,” says Madia.
Madia is not the first Indian-American to face the issue of race during a heated election. In 2006, the incumbent Virginia Senator George Allen used a racial slur to refer to an Indian-American volunteer working for his opponent.
“So welcome, let’s give a welcome to macaca here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia,” George Allen, former Virginia Senator, says.
The volunteer who was targetted was SR Sidharth, born and raised in Virginia, who still finds it difficult to discuss that racially-charged episode, even though Allen lost that election.
“It was a little bit tense. I’m over that, trying to move beyond that,” Sidharth, Obama campaign volunteer, says.
The attacks are never directly racial but are subtly framed to portray candidates like Madia as an outsider, the same tactic being used against Barack Obama.”