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Indian-American Runs for U.S. Senate in Illinois

Aired August 22, 2003 - 20:37   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

O'BRIEN: One of Illinois's seats in the U.S. Senate will be open in next year's election, and you might be surprised to see one of the Republican candidates. He's a medical doctor, a billionaire. He's never been married, and he wears a turban and a beard. Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria is an Indian-American, and he belongs to the Sikh religion. And he joins us from Chicago this evening.
Good evening. It's nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

DR. CHIRINJEEV KATHURIA (R), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Thanks, Soledad, for having me.

O'BRIEN: You're welcome. You tell the story about your parents coming to this country from India with, I think, $6 in your mom's pocket. And since then, you've become a doctor. You have your MBA. You consider yourself the classic American immigrant success story?

KATHURIA: Yes, I think that's what we're going to focus our campaign on. Only in America could that happen, where, you know, your parents come with a few dollars in their pocket, yet I was able to get an undergrad and medical degree from Brown, an MBA from Stanford and start some very successful companies. And I feel I owe it to America, living in a tolerant and accepting country, and the opportunities and freedoms it gave me. So I felt it was my turn to give back to America, and that's the major reason I'm running for the U.S. Senate.

O'BRIEN: At the same time, you're a billionaire. You think that might be where voters stop identifying with you, that you might have a problem with connecting with the common man?

KATHURIA: You know, I think we're going to focus our candidacy on bringing the American dream to the people of Illinois. I think people are going to connect to us in several ways. One, the economy is going to be very important. And small businesses account for the majority of job creation. So we're going tell the voters we know how to create small jobs and how to create jobs. Second, I think we're going to focus on the war on terror. Being a physician, you know, we understand the importance of biological and chemical warfare. I was also involved in helping start Mircorp (ph), which sent the first space tourist. So we understand how important space and satellites are for reconnaissance and intelligence in fighting the war on terror. And I tell them, If you want to fix Medicare, you elect another physician to the Senate like House majority leader Dr. Frist.

O'BRIEN: There are seven white men running for Senate in Illinois, and you. And let's face it, you stick out. You wear a beard, you wear a turban, as we can see. Do you think you have a base outside of the Indian-American base, which has given you strong support, to win the seat, to keep that seat in the Senate?

KATHURIA: Yes, absolutely. If you look at this election, exactly as you said, there's seven people running, and the Illinois Republican Party feels that I could be one of the best shots for holding the seat. One is because Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans and independent voters and moderate voters would more likely cross over in a candidacy for me.

And in all the events we have been going to, people are really excited about our message. If they look at our candidacy, they say, You understand the economy. You understand the war on terror. You understand the importance of education. Being a physician, you understand how to resolve Medicare. And Social Security, which is one of the issues that -- we're one of the first candidacies focusing on it. You only get a 1.3 percent rate of return. And if you create a Social Security Part B with personal retirement accounts, you can have a 5 percent rate of return and develop a nest egg for your grandkids.

So people are very excited about our message. They think we're probably one of most well qualified candidates. And I can tell you more about our background, if you'd like.

O'BRIEN: Well, before we get to that, I want to ask you a little bit about the GOP and the recruitment of you. I mean, obviously, the president does lack support in Illinois there. You're a candidate that reflects diversity of the area. Are you on the phone with Karl Rove, basically mapping out the strategy for your campaign? Has he been in contact with you? Do you expect to talk to him?

KATHURIA: No, we've been speaking to Grover Norquist, at the Center Right Coalition, as you know, is Bush's, you know, right-hand man into the White House. And I know he's had conversations. And it was the Republican Party that really encouraged me to run. As you know, the Republican Party has had a very traditional base. And like you said, in Illinois, the president lost Illinois by 600,000 votes. One of the reasons Senator Fitzgerald said that he was probably not running, he would find it hard to win with a Democratic governor, a Democratic mayor and a Democratic senator.

And if the Republican Party wants to stay in the majority, you know, they need to grow and develop an outreach to the Asian community, the, you know, Latin American community. You know, just, for example, Indians are the richest ethnic minority in the U.S. They control $300 billion worth of wealth. Yet 70 percent of them are Democratic. But they got together to endorse my candidacy. So what I tell the Republican Party, I kept my promise, now don't keep your distance. But it was really them who really encouraged me to run and to -- and I think it is a win-win for both of us.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Chirinjeev Kathuria, good luck in your campaign. Thanks for joining us evening.

KATHURIA: Oh, thanks, Soledad, for talking to me.

O'BRIEN: My pleasure.

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