SALEM, Ore. – A TV campaign ad opens with a photo of Goli Ameri (search) as a young girl in Iran, then switches to images of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Ameri "learned about evil in ways most politicians never will — Goli watched radicals in Iran persecute her family and destroy a nation," an announcer intones.
Ameri is one of three Republicans seeking the right in Tuesday's primary to run against three-term Democratic incumbent Rep. David Wu (search) in what could become a battle between immigrants.
Her main GOP rival, Tim Phillips, has responded to Ameri's TV ads by appealing to Oregonians' distaste for wasteful government spending and touting his support for President Bush's tax cuts.
Ameri's use of her Iranian heritage has boosted her name recognition in the race in the 1st Congressional district.
"It's a good ad in that it introduces her to voters as an American success story," said Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts.
Phillips, however, contends voters are more interested in education and getting Oregon's economy going again than his rival's Iranian background.
"Nowhere does the ad mention cutting wasteful spending or promoting education reform. That's what's important to Oregon," said Phillips, who owns a Portland brokerage firm.
Phillips, 37, also takes issue with Ameri accepting a majority of her campaign money from out-of-state donors, most of them Iranian-Americans.
Ameri, 47, so far has raised about $1 million, including $550,000 from Iranian-Americans from throughout the country, according to her campaign.
"They want to support me because they think I have a good head on my shoulders and they know I understand tyranny and how to fight it," said Ameri, who runs a high-tech consulting business.
Ameri left Iran for the United States as a college freshman in 1974, became a U.S. citizen and has lived in this country ever since.
Her parents were living in France during the 1979 Iranian revolution that toppled the shah. The Islamic fundamentalists who took power confiscated her parents' property and threw one of her uncles in jail.
Ameri and Phillips, who has raised $700,000 so far, have drawn more support than the third Republican in the race, software executive Jason Meshell.
Whoever wins Tuesday's primary will face a tough battle with the Taiwan-born Wu in November. Like Ameri, Wu has collected a lot of out-of-state money, much of it from Chinese-Americans. Wu, who is uncontested in the Tuesday's Democratic primary, already has $1.3 million in campaign cash on hand.