The former Obama aide, one of 4 Indian American Democrats seeking to enter Congress in November, is campaigning on â€œpocket book issues.â€
By Raif Karerat
After winning a three-way Democratic primary by capturing nearly 60 percent of the vote, Indian American Raja Krishnamoorthi is decidedly confident that he is entering the race for Illinois’ 8th congressional district with wind in his sails. â€œWe go into this race with some momentum,â€ he said in a recent telephone conversation with a group of Washington-based reporters.
Krishnamoorthi, who beat two other Democrats in the March 15 primary, is pitted against Republican Peter DiCianni and independent candidate Bill Fraser in the November 8 general election. The winner will succeed Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is running for the U.S. Senate.
The former Obama aide is one of the four Indian American Democrats running for Congress this November. The others are Rep. Ami Bera, who is seeking a third term from Californiaâ€™s 3rd district; Ro Khanna, who is running against Rep. Mike Honda from the stateâ€™s 17th district; and Washington State Sen. Pramila Jayapal, who is a candidate from the stateâ€™s 7th district.
Krishnamoorthi, 42, said the presence of a large South Asian American population in the district and his pro-middle class positions on pocket book issues â€” which â€œare the most important issues for folks in our districtâ€ â€” give him an edge in November.
“[It is] a very diverse area, a dynamic and growing area â€” [and ] it also has one of the largest South Asian populations and Indian American populations of any congressional districts anywhere in the country,” he said. The 8th district covers most of the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
Krishnamoorthi, who swept demographic votes in the primary at “almost every different age group, ethnicity, and educational level,” heaped distinct praise upon Indian Americans who turned out to vote in record numbers.
â€œSouth Asian Americans have very good reputation within this district, whether they are professionals or entrepreneurs â€¦ they are so numerous that people within this district have friends and even family members who are South Asian Americans, and what that means is that they have a good impression about our â€¦ ethnic community,” stated the Delhi-born Krishnamoorthi, who served as policy director to Barack Obama during the latter’s successful 2004 U.S. Senate campaign. “I am really proud of my heritage and I am proud of my fellow Indian Americans.”
Calling himself â€œa small and unique breed of Democratâ€ who is â€œa small business Democratâ€ and at the same time â€œa progressive,â€ Krishnamoothi said the cornerstone of his platform rests on bolstering the faltering middle class by utilizing his experience in both governance and the business sector.
“I am â€¦ someone who believes very much in entrepreneurship and helping small businesses to grow because I believe that they are at the heart of economy,â€ he asserted.
â€œMy mission is to grow and strengthen the middle class and keep people in the middle class because I believe that the middle class in America is slowly eroding [and] shrinking,” the candidate said. “[The middle class is] absolutely essential to keeping the country prosperous … I believe that our country has not done enough to assist them.”
Krishnamoorthi currently advocates policies that would aid working families, which include equal pay for equal work, paid sick and maternity leave, and an increase of the federal minimum wage. He is also a staunch proponent of womenâ€™s reproductive freedom.
The son of Tamil immigrants â€” his parents moved from Delhi to Peoria, Illinois, when he was 3 months old â€” is running for Congress with a progressive mission statement that includes protecting Social Security and Medicare, passing common-sense gun laws, and addressing the creeping threat of climate change.
Krishnamoorthi, who lives in Schaumburg, Illinois with his wife, Priya, a physician who practices at a local hospital, and their three children â€” Â two sons Vijay, 10; Vikram, 6; and a baby girl, who was born just last week â€” has a stellar resume. He earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Princeton University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.
After serving as Barack Obama’s policy director when he ran for the U.S. Senate 12 years ago, Krishnamoorthi was appointed to the Illinois Housing Development Authority prior to becoming a founding prosecutor for Illinois Attorney General’s anti-corruption unit. He subsequently served as Illinois Deputy Treasurer and as Vice-Chair of the Illinois Innovation Council.
He currently serves as the president of Chicago-based Sivananthan Labs and Episolar, Inc., which develop products for the national security and renewable energy industries, respectively. He also co-founded InSPIRE, a charity dedicated to providing solar technology training to inner-city students and veterans
During the interview, the congressional hopeful also spoke about his relationship with President Obama, which goes back to 1998. When Obama ran in the primary from the Illinoisâ€™ 1st congressional district against incumbent Bobby Rush in 2000, the Indian American served as a low-level policy researcher.
Two years later, Obama would approach his former aide again, telling him that he had one more â€œrace left in him.â€ Krishnamoorthi recalled: â€œHe said, â€˜Will you be my policy director for the Senate campaign?â€™ I jumped on board.â€
Krishnamoorthi said that particular campaign â€” which propelled Obama from â€œfrom pretty much nowhere to becoming the U.S. Senator from Illinoisâ€ â€” really opened his eyes. â€œPeople in Illinois are really good and decent and forward looking people, who are willing to look past the color of your skin,â€ he said.
Asked whether he received any help from the White House during the current campaign, Krishnamoorthi pointed to the endorsements he received from the likes of former Obama aide David Axelrod and the senior U.S. senator from Illinois Dick Durbin, one of the first top Democrats on the Hill to support the then-Illinois state senatorâ€™s long-shot presidential campaign. â€œI am pleased that a lot of Obama alums are with us,â€ he said. â€œAnd you know these races are largely defined locally, and I am proud to say that we have very deep local support among the Obama alums.â€
(Jayshal Sood contributed to this report.)