Republican congressional aide Igor Birman formally launched his campaign to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Ami Bera on Thursday, saying his family's journey here nearly two decades ago from the Soviet Union inspired him to fight for freedom.
"This is actually pretty easy to sum up," said Birman, the chief of staff to Rep. Tom McClintock, R- Elk Grove, after recounting his immigrant story. "My parents risked everything down to their lives to get me out of the Soviet Union where freedom did not exist and into the United States, which was founded on freedom. How could I possibly not dedicate my life to ensuring my children grow up to know the same freedom that I came here to find? "That freedom now is in great jeopardy based on the policies of some leaders in our government."
Birman's event at the Folsom Amphitheater comes two days after former Rep. Doug Ose joined the list of Republicans vying for Bera's 7th Congressional District seat. Ose lost a congressional primary to McClintock in 2008, three years after relinquishing his own seat to fulfill a campaign promise.
The other Republican challenger is Elizabeth Emken, a former nonprofit executive who last year challenged U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
The 7th Congressional District has been identified as a virtual tossup that's expected to produce one of the most competitive and expensive races in the nation. The electorate is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and GOP power brokers in Washington are expected to help their standard-bearer saturate the airwaves to avenge Bera's defeat of former Rep. Dan Lungren.
Birman's biggest ally in the race is likely to be McClintock, who lavished praise on the 31-year-old aide, calling him the most effective chief of staff in Washington.
"I must admit I'm here today with mixed emotions because I'm about to lose the best chief of staff on Capitol Hill," McClintock said. "But Igor Birman's is a voice that is desperately needed in Congress. His is a message that needs to be taken to every American who has tended to take our freedom for granted over the years.
Born in Moscow, Birman moved with his family to the Sacramento area. Before graduating from UC Davis, the rock-ribbed conservative changed his political registration to Republican from Democratic.
"I didn't know any better," said Birman, a practicing attorney and instrument-rated pilot. "But, after a trip to a Democratic (Party) state convention, it set me straight right there. I heard a speaker praise the virtues of the Cuban medical system, which was a shock to my tender, 18-year-old ears. And I had heard enough. I could not possibly be a member of any party that championed the same ideology that I once saw cause so much misery."
McClintock said Birman knows firsthand what it's like to be raised in a society "where the government spies on its citizens, where it harasses and intimidates opponents into silence, where it attempts to dominate every aspect of a citizen's life from cradle to grave ...
"And I ask you, who better to speak up, to warn about the path that we are on and to articulate the importance of our freedom as Americans than Igor Birman?" McClintock said.
Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.