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Dismayed by Washington, Pooran runs for Congress

Milad Pooran was honeymooning in the South Pacific last summer as politicians in Washington were turning a deadline to raise the U.S. debt limit into another opportunity for partisan brinkmanship.

A critical care physician from Frederick County, Pooran has never held elective office. But as he watched the spectacle in Washington, he asked his wife for permission to run for Congress.

"To see in the newspapers the American politicians airing our national dirty laundry was frankly embarrassing," he says. "I didn't think the country was looking at the right issues."

So began Pooran's quest for the Democratic nomination in Maryland's 6th Congressional District, the Western Maryland seat long held by Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlettbut redrawn last year by Democrats in Annapolis to give their party a chance at a seat pickup. The primary is April 3.

Pooran, 35, faces an uphill battle against two candidates with higher profiles: state Sen. Rob Garagiola of Montgomery County, who is backed by key unions and several Maryland Democratic leaders, and John Delaney, a millionaire financier who has scored the endorsement of Bill Clinton.

And Pooran had to stop campaigning just before Christmas to deploy with his Air National Guard unit to Germany, where he spent five weeks as a flight surgeon bringing critically wounded troops back to the United States for treatment.

But he has won the support of fellow physician Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman, and Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Encouraged, he says, by internal polls that show much of the electorate still undecided, he has sunk $200,000 of his own money — "basically, all my nest egg" — into his campaign.

Even with the infusion, he lags well behind Delaney, who has loaned himself $1.3 million this year. And the Maryland members of the progressive caucus, Reps. Elijah E. Cummingsand Donna Edwards, have endorsed Garagiola and Delaney, respectively.

"It's absolutely a challenge," Pooran says. "But at the end of the day, I think the voters will decide who will best represent them."

With the primary less than a week away, he says his slogan has been "Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear."

That would be the driver's-side mirror: He has attempted to run to the left of Delaney and Garagiola.

Pooran describes President Barack Obama's health care overhaul as "an excellent start," but favors expanding it, in stages. First, he would allow Americans to buy into Medicare at age 55. Over time, he would extend eligibility to progressively lower ages, until everyone was covered in a single-payer system.

He blames the government's fiscal straits not on entitlement programs, but on tax cuts enacted during the administration ofGeorge W. Bushand "10 years of wars that we borrowed money to fight."

He would make Medicare and Social Security solvent not through "entitlement reform" — raising the age of eligibility or cutting benefits — but by applying FICA taxes to all wages, not just the first $110,100, and also to capital gains.

Pooran describes jobs as "the biggest issue in this country right now." He speaks of expanding the availability of credit to small- and medium-sized businesses, investing in education, research, and infrastructure, and restoring a "robust" regulatory system to protect against a repeat of the financial collapse of 2008.

Colleague Kyle Wiebold says Pooran "has no agenda, other than just wanting to do the right thing."

"He's not beholden certainly to any particular ideology or certainly any interest group," says Wiebold, a registered nurse at the Martinsburg Veterans Administration Medical Center. "He really represents mainstream America. It's almost like a 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,' only with less naivete."

Born in Iran, Pooran came with his parents to the United States in 1983, when he was six. The family settled eventually in Beltsville; Pooran attended Prince George's County public schools, the University of Maryland College Park and the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

He stresses his ties to the 6th District, which includes Western Maryland and parts of Frederick and Montgomery counties. He worked in Cumberland during medical school and his residency. He lived in Montgomery County while researching HIV at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda and working at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington.

"I've been within this community," he says. "I understand the needs of this community. I understand the stresses that are out there."

Pooran lives in Jefferson in Frederick County with his wife, a pediatric critical care nurse, and works at the Veterans Administration hospital in Martinsburg, W. Va.

He was in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 11, 2001, as a member of the Maryland Air National Guard, and served at an Air Force hospital in Iraq in 2006. He is now a senior flight surgeon in the District of Columbia Air National Guard with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

Joe Banks, a medic who worked with Pooran at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad, Iraq, describes him as cool under pressure.

"When everyone else is kind of freaking out and it's real busy, Milad has a way of calming everyone down and doing whatever is necessary to get the job done," he said. "It is inspiring, actually, to work with him."

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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Milad Pooran

Party: Democrat

Born: Jan. 8, 1977, in Iran; immigrated to the United States, Nov. 23, 1983; raised in Beltsville

Education: University of Maryland, 1995; University of Maryland School of Medicine, 2000

Residence: Jefferson, Md.

Occupation: Critical care physician; contractor to the VA Medical Center, Martinsburg, W.Va.; lieutenant colonel, District of Columbia Air National Guard

Family: Married

Website: miladforcongress.com

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