Republican congressional aide Igor Birman formally launched his campaign to unseat freshman Democratic Rep. Ami Bera on Thursday, saying his family's journey here nearly two decades ago from the Soviet Union inspired him to fight for freedom.
"This is actually pretty easy to sum up," said Birman, the chief of staff to Rep. Tom McClintock, R- Elk Grove, after recounting his immigrant story. "My parents risked everything down to their lives to get me out of the Soviet Union where freedom did not exist and into the United States, which was founded on freedom. How could I possibly not dedicate my life to ensuring my children grow up to know the same freedom that I came here to find?
"That freedom now is in great jeopardy based on the policies of some leaders in our government."
Birman's event at the Folsom Amphitheater comes two days after former Rep. Doug Ose joined the list of Republicans vying for Bera's 7th Congressional District seat. Ose lost a congressional primary to McClintock in 2008, three years after relinquishing his own seat to fulfill a campaign promise. On Thursday, he released a list of Folsom supporters including Mayor Steve Miklos and Councilmen Andy Morin, Jeff Starsky and Ernie Sheldon.
"Having worked with Folsom leaders in the past, I understand what it takes to rebuild the local economy and create jobs, and how to work with local communities to ensure that their interests are well served in Washington D.C," Ose said.
The other Republican challenger is Elizabeth Emken, a former nonprofit executive who last year challenged U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
The 7th Congressional District has been identified as a virtual toss-up that's expected to produce one of the most competitive and expensive races in the nation. The electorate is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and GOP power brokers in Washington are expected to help their standard-bearer saturate the airwaves to avenge Bera's defeat of former Rep. Dan Lungren.
Birman's biggest ally to help him emerge from the crowded field is likely to be McClintock, who lavished praise on the 31-year-old aide, calling him the most effective chief of staff in Washington.
"I must admit I'm here today with mixed emotions because I'm about to lose the best chief of staff on Capitol Hill," McClintock said. "But Igor Birman's is a voice that is desperately needed in Congress. His is a message that needs to be taken to every American who has tended to take our freedom for granted over the years.
Born in Moscow, Birman moved with his family to the Sacramento area and graduated from UC Davis. He is a practicing attorney and instrument-rated pilot.
McClintock said Birman knows what it's like to grow up in a totalitarian society.
"Who better to speak up, to warn about the path that we are on and to articulate the importance of our freedom as Americans than Igor Birman?" the congressman asked.
"It is that experience that instilled in him a burning devotion to American principles of individual liberty, constitutionally limited government and personal responsibility that built the most prosperous and successful republic in the history of mankind."
PHOTO: Igor Birman, left, appears with his boss, U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, in Folsom on Sept. 5, 2013. Birman announced he would run for the congressional seat held by Democrat Ami Bera. The Sacramento Bee/Christopher Cadelago.