Muslim immigrant enters California lieutenant governor race

A physician who came to the U.S. from Pakistan on Wednesday will join the 2018 race for California lieutenant governor, promising to run on his Muslim faith, immigrant past and career in medicine.

Dr. Asif Mahmood plans to kick off his candidacy outside the headquarters of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in downtown Los Angeles.

The pulmonologist said his status as a Californian, a Muslim and an immigrant makes him a "triple threat" to fight what he calls President Donald Trump's "discriminatory attacks" on foreigners seeking a better life in the U.S.

"I want to tell him: Get tough on hate. Stop bashing on immigrants, on people of color, on Muslims," Mahmood, 56, told The Associated Press in an interview ahead of his official announcement. "That is not America."

Born in a small, rural village in Pakistan, Mahmood moved to Kentucky in the 1990s to complete medical school.

He moved to Southern California in 2000 and lives near Los Angeles with his wife and three teenage children.

He said his experience running a medical practice and volunteering at free clinics that treat poor populations gave him the credentials to campaign for health care reform.

As a first-time candidate, Mahmood's challenge is to build a statewide coalition, potentially anchored to civil rights.

He starts as a virtual unknown. Muslims make up a tiny percentage of people living in California.

To be competitive and grow beyond a niche candidacy, he must craft a message that resonates with the large, diverse pool of voters in a state that is home to 1 of every 8 Americans.

Mahmood, a Democrat, said he did not think his religion would be an obstacle in California, a state known for diversity that he credits for allowing him to flourish.

"I am a proud Muslim and a proud American," he said.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the incumbent, is barred by term limits from seeking a third term and is running for governor.

California's lieutenant governor post is largely ceremonial, but the lieutenant governor leads the state when the governor travels outside it and can break tie votes in the state Senate.

The lieutenant governor also has a seat on the board of regents of the 10-campus University of California. Mahmood said he would use it to influence higher education reform.

"Education is why I'm here today," he said.

State Sen. Ed Hernandez, also a Democrat, is the only other declared candidate for lieutenant governor.

The field is sure to grow ahead of the November 2018 vote.


Associated Press writer Michael Blood in Los Angeles contributed to this report.