ELK GROVE, Calif. - California's 3rd congressional district is emerging as one place where an incumbent Republican is on shaky ground in the Nov. 2 midterm elections.
Elk Grove physician and political newcomer Ami Bera is posing a sharp challenge to U.S. Representative Dan Lungren, a Republican with a far-right record who has represented the district in Congress for the last four years, and earlier represented a southern California district. A recent poll showed Lungren still leading Bera, 46 to 38 percent, but stuck below 50 percent with 16 percent undecided. Among voters under 30, Bera was leading, 50 to 40 percent with just 10 percent still undecided.
Bera has also substantially outdone his opponent in fundraising.
The 3rd CD, which stretches from the Nevada border through Sacramento's suburbs to the farthest edges of the San Francisco Bay Area, "leans Republican," according to Real Clear Politics, but went narrowly for Barack Obama in 2008. It has been especially hard hit by the current economic crisis.
On his campaign website, Bera, 45, whose parents emigrated from India, emphasizes that as "a first-generation American, born and raised in California," he benefited from "equality, opportunity and the promise that through hard work and education, I could reach my potential and create a full and successful life. But," he says, "for many of us, this promise no longer rings true. We face a record jobless rate, a health care crisis and a crumbling school system that is failing our children."
An educator as well as a doctor, Bera has served as Associate Dean for Admissions at the School of Medicine, University of California at Davis. He is a former Chief Medical Officer for Sacramento County.
As with all the candidates this year, the main issue is jobs, jobs, jobs. Bera says he'll make jobs for Main Street instead of protecting profits for Wall Street. But unlike his Republican opponent, Bera gets more specific, calling for tax credits to small businesses that actually hire new workers, as well as closing corporate tax loopholes.
As a doctor, Bera calls the national health reform legislation "an important first step in increasing access to basic medical coverage," but adds, "We must continue fighting the insurance companies to truly reduce costs." The Republican incumbent, on the other hand, voted against the new law.
As an educator, Bera supports increased investment in public education and apprenticeship programs, and calls for "creative, nurturing and safe environments for our youth, from early education through high school and college."
He pledges to back a "crucial transition from a carbon-based and energy dependent economy to one that is clean, self-sufficient and can generate millions of good-paying jobs across every skill and education level."
Bera has also signed a pledge to protect Social Security against all attempts to privatize it - an effort his Republican opponent would like to pursue.
I have been phone-banking for Dr. Bera's campaign, and it's really an educational experience. Dozens of young people on the phones, out in the precincts, knocking on doors, organizing house parties, reaching hundreds of residents, inviting them to small house gatherings where participants can interact with the candidates. Many young activists have been trained through this experience. This has been a very successful part of his campaign.
Bera is the labor movement's endorsed candidate in the 3rd CD. On Oct. 10, AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker and California Labor Federation head Art Pulaski joined Bera at a rally before Sacramento Labor Council volunteers hit the streets to talk with union voters.
As for his opponent, what can one say that hasn't been said, about a typical Republican conservative, a career politician with many years of protecting the corporations and ignoring people's needs.
Even in this conservative 3rd congressional district, Dr. Ami Bera has a good chance of winning.