After three terms in office representing downtown Portland, Ore., and its suburbs, Democrat Rep. David Wu (search) is facing an opponent whose Iranian background and immigrant story has drawn attention and speculation that she has what it takes to win this First District seat.
But Wu, whose family emigrated from Taiwan when he was boy, insists that this election is not about anyone’s personal story, it is about the district, and the future of the state.
"While I am very proud of the sacrifices that my parents made, and that my family made to come to America, this election is not about my parents, or me, or my background," Wu told Foxnews.com. "What it is about is what Oregonians want and need and what they want and need in terms of education, a sound economy, access to better healthcare and to prescription drugs. Those are the issues Oregonians care about."
Plus, he said, the differences between himself and Republican Goli Yazdi Ameri (search) are stark. "Frankly, I am a Joe-six-pack immigrant and I’m running against a pearls and diamonds immigrant," he said.
Political forecasters say Wu is in a good place right now. He’s a prolific fundraiser — with $1.2 million on hand as of April — and is a hard worker for the district, which only has a slight Democratic advantage among registered voters, but went decidedly for Vice President Al Gore over George W. Bush in 2000, 50 to 44 percent.
"All of these things make it difficult (for a challenger) to win," said Nathan Gonzales, an analyst for the Rothenberg Political Report (search).
The Political Oddsmaker, a tool of Campaigns & Elections online magazine, gives Wu a 60 percent chance of winning in November.
Wu, a former practicing attorney who worked on the campaigns of former President Jimmy Carter and Democratic presidential contender Gary Hart, said he is going to make it impossible for Ameri to win. Wu said he has worked both in and out of his party’s framework for the benefit of the district, which has disproportionately suffered during the last recession due to the high volume of high-tech and manufacturing jobs lost there.
"I knock on doors and shake hands and come across a lot of people who have lost their jobs, who are on the verge of losing their homes, their health care," he said, noting that he has supported middle-class tax cuts and extending unemployment benefits, and is generally against what he calls unfair trade agreements that affect jobs at home.
"Creating new jobs and enhancing the economy is something we should be doing all of the time, not just when we are in a recession," he said.
But Ameri, who emigrated from Iran as first year college student and built her own wealth through a successful technology consulting firm, said Wu is "out of touch with his district," and his opposition to the Bush tax cuts and free trade have hurt Oregon, not helped it.
"People do not like taxing and spending in this district," she said, complaining that much of the Democratic leadership in Oregon has served as a "kind of noose around its neck, dragging it down," with high taxes in particular. She said the first thing she would do as congresswoman would be to make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent.
No one would doubt that. Her campaign has been credited as one of the driving forces behind the defeat of the $1 billion state tax increase referendum in February. "If we are going to help Oregon," which has the third highest unemployment in the country, "we have to be a more business-friendly place."
National Republicans are excited about this race. They say Ameri's background, business credentials and fundraising connections — she’s raised nearly $1 million so far, though all but $205,000 was spent by the May primary — all work in her favor.
"She’s a tremendous candidate," said Bo Harmon of the National Republican Congressional Committee (search), referring to Ameri's sound defeat of two other able candidates in the May GOP primary. "As a first generation immigrant, she is able to bring to the table an understanding of the importance of the war against terrorism, plus the value of education and the personal experience of growing and supporting jobs."
That's fine and well, say Wu supporters, but the congressman hasn't given his district any reason to doubt his own performance so far.
"I think David Wu is a fabulous member of Congress," said Kori Bernards, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (search). "I think the Republicans can talk all they want about being vulnerable, but the fact is David Wu has worked very hard for his district. He shares their values and we are confident that he will remain in that seat."
Josh Kardon, chief of staff for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said while there are "no gimmies" in the nearly equally-divided district, "David has produced for that district and has to be viewed as the favorite."
Wu said he resents Ameri’s implications that he votes lock-step with the Democratic leadership, and even more that he is out of touch. He pointed to his vote last year for the Medicare Reform Act (search) bill, which only 16 Democrats in the House supported; hundreds of trips to local schools over the last several years; and the many personal contacts he’s made along the way.
"I haven’t been afraid of being for or against the Clinton or the Bush administrations," he said. "I think my opponent has made it clear she is committed to marching lock-step with the Bush administrations on both domestic and foreign policy.
And I bet you dollars to donuts that I have knocked on more doors than my opponent has," he added.