Four years ago, Dr. Syed Taj, then chief of medicine at Dearborn’s Oakwood Hospital, decided to run for Canton Township trustee. His friends tried to talk him out of it. He had only lived there a year, and he was a Democrat. The affluent Wayne County area is pretty Republican. Taj is also a Muslim-American whose musical voice is rich with the accents of his native India.
Most figured he didn’t have a chance. But he won overwhelmingly. Though he was the only Democrat to win a seat on the board, he got more votes than anyone else.
“Most people trust their doctor,” Taj said, chuckling. Now, Taj is running for Congress from the Eleventh District, which tends to lean Republican. He is, once again, an underdog. But he is used to that -- and his chances improved when the incumbent, Thaddeus McCotter, mysteriously failed to qualify for the ballot and suddenly resigned.
Throughout the last decade, there was always speculation that a Democrat could win the 11th district, but the party tended to run lackluster and underfunded candidates. This time, it may be even harder. Redistricting has made the district slightly more Republican.
Yet Taj thinks he has a good chance. “Why did I decide to do this? Well, health care is of course my first priority,” he says. Reportedly, many physicians don’t like President Obama’s health care plan. Dr. Taj embraces it, wholeheartedly.
“This will save the economy trillions,” he said, adding that he thinks of himself as a fiscal conservative whose primary goals in Washington will be anything that saves money and creates jobs. He thinks Democrats made a bad mistake two years ago in the midterm elections by failing to appear to enthusiastically endorse the plan.
“We should have run on it, not away from it,” he says, his campaign manager and press secretary nodding in agreement. She ought to know, Natalie Mosher, who is running the doctor’s campaign, was the Democratic party’s candidate two years ago.
She lost decisively to McCotter. But she thinks the 67-year-old Taj can win. “He can speak to people and win votes I could not,” she says. “Well, you know I voted for you!” he teases back.
Syed Taj faces a hurdle even before the November election. He faces a primary opponent with a more familiar sounding name, one William Roberts. But Mr. Roberts is a follower of Lyndon LaRouche, and wants to impeach the President. Worrying about winning the primary is a distraction Taj hadn’t counted on, Assuming he gets past the primary, he then will face either Kerry Bentivolio or Nancy Cassis in the general election. Candidly, Taj admits he would rather face Bentivolio, because his views are likely to be seen as more extreme.
“What I am doing, you know, is pursuing the American dream,” Taj said. He thinks he can help break the partisan gridlock paralyzing Washington, and get things done. He was born the year India and Pakistan were partitioned, and his family was urged to leave India and go to the Muslim state. His father refused.
“We belong here,“ he said, and the Taj family never had any trouble. “Who better to heal wounds than a doctor?“ the candidate said, smiling. He hopes that twice this year, the voters will agree.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst. Views expressed by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.