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Soviet-born congressional candidate looks to make history

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Igor Birman, shown here, is running for Congress in California.Igor Birman

During the darkest days of the Cold War, some in Washington feared a Communist infiltration inside the highest reaches of the government. It would have been unimaginable then that a man born and raised in Soviet-era Moscow would mount a strong challenge for a seat in Congress, with a rallying cry of freedom against government. 

Yet that's exactly what's happening in suburban Sacramento where Moscow-born Igor Birman, 32, is living his American dream and trying to become the first-ever member of Congress born in the Soviet Union. 

"As the elites in Washington abandon freedom as the cornerstone of America's public policy, we see all of these academic and acrimonious debates," Birman told Fox News. "To me, though, this matter is personal. Freedom is very personal to me. I've lived in a society where freedom was denied to just about everyone but the elites." 

Birman, a Republican who until last year worked on Capitol Hill, is in the middle of a heated contest challenging Democratic Rep. Ami Bera. But his critiques of Washington go beyond the incumbent freshman. 

"You don't have to be a Republican or Democrat to dislike the NSA snooping through your private and intimate records. You don't have to be a Republican or a Democrat to realize that the most feared agencies in government, like the IRS, should not be harassing ordinary Americans for simply disagreeing. There are a lot of issues that transcend party politics these days." 

As an immigrant, Birman knows intimately the struggles that come with being new to America and is offering his own plans for reforming the immigration system. 

"Fix that legal immigration process, and I suspect you'll see illegal immigration drop tremendously," he said. 

Birman, now a U.S. citizen, is also running during a tense time for relations between Washington and Moscow. On the conflict in Ukraine, Birman said the bellicosity of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he calls a KGB thug, is hardly surprising. "We should realize that the only strength that Putin has is the exporting of natural gas energy." 

Birman explains that Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas is the cause of its timidity in challenging Putin. The American response, he says, should be to aggressively sell U.S. natural gas on the world market, thereby driving down Russian influence and at the same time promoting domestic economic vitality. 

At a recent gathering of eager campaign volunteers, Birman profusely thanked  them for their efforts and sprinkled in quotes from Reagan and Churchill. "We don't need a new message," he told them. "It may be that we need new and better messengers." 

Also helping stuff and stamp envelopes are Birman's parents Alexander and Emily. They were the ones who made the critical decision to leave Moscow in 1994 with Igor and his younger brother Eugene. With a stack of letters in front of her, Emily held no doubt that her son will succeed. 

"I told him whenever you decide to run for Congress or to be a public servant, people will trust you because you speak from your heart." 

Birman's path to Congress will not be easy. In June's "top two" primary -- in which candidates of all parties run against each other, and the top two move on to the general -- not only does he take on Bera but also two other more prominent Republicans: former Rep. Doug Ose and 2012 Senate nominee Elizabeth Emken. 

He has the backing, though, of eight members of Congress including Tom McClintock, whom Birman worked for as chief of staff, and Republican Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee, whom he calls his heroes. "They stand firm for freedom, for those principles of individual liberty," he said. "Constitutionally limited government and personal responsibility. Those are the principles that are near and dear to my heart. Those are the principles I want to champion in Washington."