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An endorsement by Clinton is a big deal for this desi

October 18, 2012 12:49 IST

Dr Ami Bera, California physician, who according to conventional wisdom is the only Indian American congressional candidate this time around among all of the community's aspirants who has a good chance of winning, received a major boost when former President Bill Clinton publicly endorsed him in a public rally at the University of California.

Bera (47) is in the fray for the redrawn District 7 seat in the United States Congress.

The popular erstwhile president praised Bera for his years helping middle class families in Sacramento County, telling the more than 14,000 strong audience: "You have got Dr Bera, a product of the American dream. A guy who gets into medicine to help other people; a man who believes poor people deserve the same health care that the rest of us get, and believes there are plenty of people who need health care, so medical professionals should worry about giving it to them, rather than controlling women's choices."

An elated Bera said, "I am deeply honoured to have earned Clinton's support. Today, he clearly laid out the choice voters have in November between candidates like me who will fight for the middle class, and candidates like my opponent who will give more breaks to billionaires and corporations. Clinton's record stands as an example of how we move forward to rebuild the middle class, put people first, and restore the American Dream.

Bera gave an exclusive interview to rediff.com's Aziz Haniffa, immediately after his endorsement by Clinton

How big a deal was Clinton's endorsement?

An endorsement by Clinton was a big deal. He represents an America, which created jobs. He represents a time when America had a budget surplus. He is one of our most popular and important presidents, and to have him come out to our community and do that endorsement in public on the college campus where I am faculty, was incredible, especially in front of 14,000 or so students. It was a pretty amazing experience.

How did it come about?

My understanding is that Clinton is looking at the important congressional races in the country and recognised ours to be one among them. (And) If we want to start moving forward, electing a doctor for Congress would be a good positive step.

Electing someone who is a product of the American Dream -- who would understand that opportunity -- would be a move in the right step. So, he approached our campaign and we said absolutely yes.

Do you expect a bounce from it, like President Obama did after the Clinton speech at the (Democratic) convention?

We had a series of big events. One, this race has been gaining momentum from day one. Second, we had our debate with Dan Lungren, which we won. And then a week ago, we received the endorsement from the Sacramento Bee, which is the largest newspaper in the area, which was a big push. And then, to have Clinton endorse us publicly in front of 14,000 folks, all of these cumulatively, we together are building this momentum that will carry us to November 6.

I watched your debate with Lungren and you say that you won it. Was that the consensus by the media over there too?

That was the consensus and that was a factor in the Sacramento Bee's decision to endorse us.

Do you feel they were objective in that endorsement in terms of clearly acknowledging that you won the debate?

It is my sense that that was the factor in their decision to endorse us and that most people who viewed the debate suggested that we actually laid out and answered the questions and talked about what we will do to create jobs here, what we will do to rebuild our education system, how we would strengthen and secure Medicate.

So, we actually answered the questions. Dan Lungren just continued to talk about the same old stuff -- policies that got us into this mess.

In 2010, the Republican wave, the Tea Party wave, was like a tsunami that did you in too, including even several Democratic incumbents. How confident are you that this time around things would be much better for you?

This time around, when you look at the national landscape, there is a tremendous amount of remorse for where Congress is today. The congressional approval, I think is in the single digits now. So, there is a real desire to see the country move forward. And people are truly looking at the candidate and the quality of the candidate -- why they are running, what they represent, what their values are. And, on each of these issues, we beat Dan Lungren.

But following President Barack Obama's dismal performance at the debate, and of course (Republican presidential nominee, Mitt) Romney's solid performance, which has energised the Romney campaign, wouldn't running on Obama's coat-tails be a downer for you?

We've never built the race based on President Obama. We've built the campaign based on the people who live here. So, we have to win it or lose it based on the people who live in this district. So, we feel very confident about winning this race.

But aren't you very strongly in favour of the Affordable Health Care Act and things like that which President Obama has advocated and which of course, is the law now?

I have always been on the record saying the approach for the Affordable Care Act was not the direction that I would go. Certainly, I would like to see the President get re-elected because I do think he has the right set of values, and he is fighting for the middle class and he is fighting to rebuild America.

But as a physician, aren't you in sync with Obamacare?

What worries me about the Affordable Care Act is that is doesn't address the cost of care. So, we have to start taking on the health insurance companies, we have to take on the pharmaceutical industry, and make health care more affordable.

But are you in sync with things like pre-existing conditions, children being on their parents insurance till age 26, etc? Are there things in the Act that you agree?

There are some good things in the Affordable Care Act and now that the Supreme Court has ruled, let's start moving forward. There's a framework the fact that woman can't be charged more than men is a good thing; the fact that health insurance companies can't drop coverage if you have a pre-existing illness; the fact that more children are covered; those are all good things.

Now, let's start moving forward and addressing the cost of care.

So, you feel that's where a lot of tweaking is needed -- in terms of the cost of care?

Absolutely! Small business owners and large business owners, they are paying more and more every year and getting less and less. Now we have to make the economic case why an appropriate health care system is just good economically.

How supportive has the Indian American community -- both in your constituency as well as around the nation -- been this time around? In terms of not only financial contributions, but also in terms of volunteering, helping in the Get Out the Vote and things like that?

They are extremely excited. The big difference this time around is that we've build a huge base of support. We have over 10,000 donors. We have the largest Congressional campaign in the country for grass-roots organisation. We have more volunteers than any other race.

So, it's not just the Indian American community, but the broader Sacramento community. It's the largest grassroots program in the country. We are making more phone calls, knocking on more doors than any other race in the United States right now. That is the broad community.

The Indian American community sees this as a race that we can win. It is something that the entire community can certainly be proud of -- and this is a race that we are going to win.

In these last couple of weeks, I know your fund-raising has been solid. So, is there any particular strategy that you are adopting in terms of a media campaign, advertising, TV campaign, etc?

This is a campaign -- an election of choice. There are two very different candidates here. I am running to restore the middle class and restore opportunity for every America. Dan Lungren is continuing to push the same policies -- tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires and corporation that got us into this mess. So, that's what this election will be fought on in our district -- on these two choices and we'll win this race. In fact, I am confident we are going to win.

Aziz Haniffa