A political long shot: Can an Indian wearing a turban prevail in the Republican primary for Senate?

By Mike Kroll

While media coverage of American politics has morphed into cynical critique of the ever-present candidate sound bites and banal dissection of the horse race in the polls the real substance of issues has been sacrificed. Nearly extinct are politicians who adopt positions based on careful study and principled analysis. With few exceptions they have been replaced by candidates who proclaim shallow and vague nuanced positions based on the results of focus groups and opinion polls. In most cases those exceptions experience just as much trouble gathering media coverage as they do the attention of voters.

Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria is a case in point. His Indian parents brought him to America when he was but eight months old, settling in suburban Chicago. Following in his mother's footsteps he chose to study medicine and obtained his MD from Brown University where he balanced his clinical studies with a specialization in health care policy and administration. He followed this by earning an MBA from Stanford and has focused most of his energies on the business aspects of health care and cyber technology startup companies. As he points out in his literature, Kathuria is the American dream. Before the age of 40 this man amassed his fortune before the high technology bubble burst.

True to his Sikh Indian heritage Kathuria proudly wears a beard and turban that makes it easy to pick out the only minority candidate among a crowded field of eight Republicans vying for the U.S. Senate seat Peter Fitzgerald will vacate next January. "Don’t let this turban and beard fool you. True, I am an Indian but I am an American first and foremost. I want to be the first Indian elected to the Senate and what better place than the party of Abraham Lincoln." In fact, Kathuria sees his minority status as the key to Illinois Republicans keeping the Senate seat. "While I'm not the typical candidate in the Republican primary I am the best shot Republicans have in November is to attract a substantial share of the minority vote."

He expects to attract a substantial number of Asian American voters, a demographic that has historically accounted for but one in five Republican voters; but more importantly he anticipates pulling substantial numbers of Illinois' 700,000 registered Hispanic voters plus more African American voters than the GOP's typical ten percent. "I believe my role to be especially important if [Illinois State Comptroller] Dan Hynes or Blair Hull win the Democratic primary." He labels Fitzgerald's as "the swing seat in the U.S. Senate."

If Kathuria is to have any chance on Tuesday he needs to attract a substantial portion of the hardcore Republican primary voters, most of whom have never heard of him. "Why should a conservative vote for me? Because I believe in, and have benefited from the conservative agenda. Free markets helped me create my businesses, tax relief put money in my pocket, Homeland Security kept me safe from terrorist attacks, and I strongly believe in the family values that have been instrumental in my personal and professional life. Any success that I have achieved I owe to the opportunities and freedoms that America has given me. Now it’s my turn to give back to this nation that has endowed me with enormous personal growth."

Unlike many of his colleagues in Tuesday's primary Kathuria has staked out some unequivocal positions, without the benefit of focus groups or political consultants. "And since my campaign is entirely self-funded I am not beholden to any special interest groups at all."

He supports Bush and the war in Iraq but takes some unexpected positions on Homeland Security. "The Iraq was was justified by the brutality of Saddam Hussein's regime but I would suggest it was so urgent that we needed to embark upon it unilaterally nor should America shoulder the entire cost of getting Iraq back on its feet. I am concerned that too many officials at the Homeland Security Department are overly concerned with terrorist activities abroad and are not doing enough to secure the safety of our borders. At the same time, we must ensure civil liberties are enforced to protect our law-abiding, peaceful people in the U.S. I believe we need to reform the Patriot Act, many of the enforcement provisions are too intrusive into constitutional rights. The way to successfully win a conflict against terrorists in by using space and satellites. I have a large understanding of this kind of 21st century warfare because I was involved with space commercialization. We can't just continue to throw money at the war on terror without some evidence on the return on our investment of tax dollars."

As a physician Kathuria believes he would be effective in tackling America's health care crisis. "I have studied health care across the globe and am convinced that the solution is a combination of public and private systems working to make affordable health care available to all Americans. We need to reduce prescription costs here, make health insurance affordable and replace our failing Medicaid system with coverage for the uninsured that is more cost effective."

"Whether you are Republican, Independent, Democrat, South Asian, Hispanic, Italian, or Greek, at the end of the day, the economy is the most important issue." Kathuria believes that jobs cannot be created by government. Instead he says the key to improving the American economy is to improve the lot of small business. He believes than more tax relief is needed to help small businesses grow in America and to help prevent more businesses from moving overseas. At the same time that he supports further tax reductions he simultaneously wants to bring more federal tax dollars back to Illinois.

If the pollsters are to be believed Kathuria is trailing far back in the dust of the Republican horse race with less than one percent support in the most recent Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll. The Republican pack is currently led by investment banker cum teacher Jack Ryan (32 percent) followed at some distance by dairy magnate Jim Oberweis (11 percent). That same poll puts Illinois State Senator Barack Obama in the lead of Democratic Senate candidates (33 percent to Hynes 19 percent). If Obama maintains his lead and through some electoral miracle Kathuria prevails on Tuesday the shared minority identities of these two candidates would seem to reduce Kathuria's appeal to crossover minority voters.