Republican confirms run for Congress

4/7/2005 7:52:59 PM

John Kanno expects strong support from Assyrians in effort to defeat Cardoza

John Kanno, a Republican from Modesto who helped plan the rebuilding of post-war Iraq and once defended Democratic Rep. Gary Condit on cable television talk shows, confirmed Tuesday that he is running for Congress in 2006.

Kanno is relying on his ethnic roots in the Assyrian community to help him oust Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, who replaced Condit in the wake of the Chandra Levy scandal.

"He's basically out of touch with the district," said Kanno, 45, about Cardoza. "This is generally a conservative area."

Kanno disagrees with Cardoza on gay marriage, partial-birth abortion, lawsuit limits and tax cuts.

"I'm more to the right — not radical right, but I'm not in the middle," Kanno said.

In 2001, as Condit weathered scrutiny over the disappearance of Levy, Kanno often defended the congressman on cable talk shows, such as CNN and MSNBC. Kanno said it didn't matter that Condit was a Democrat.

"Gary Condit was very supportive of the Assyrian community," Kanno said. "Assyrian people are very loyal."

Cardoza beat Condit in the Democratic primary in 2002, then went on to win the general election. He was re-elected in November to a second term by a wide margin.

Cardoza, who has not officially announced his re-election bid, is focused on his job right now, not on the next election, an aide said.

"He's a very moderate to conservative Democrat" who is well-known and supported by his constituents, said Cardoza spokesman Bret Ladine. "That was made very clear in November when he won 68 percent of the vote."

Kanno hopes his connections to the tightknit Christian Assyrian community, with a large Stanislaus County presence, will pay off. He said he is seeking campaign donations from Assyrian communities in Chicago and Detroit.

Born in Great Britain to parents who fled their native Iraq in the 1950s, Kanno settled in Modesto in 1981. He said he became a U.S. citizen shortly after.

He hosted a public affairs show on KBSV Channel 23, the local Assyrian TV station, and has been a vocal proponent of overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

His expertise in engineering — he oversees the electrical system at Corn Products, a Stockton food plant — got him tapped by the State Department with other Iraqi expatriates in 2003 to plan for the rebuilding of Iraq.

He drew blueprints for a new electricity grid in Iraq, and that experience, which included meetings in Washington, D.C., fueled his interest in running for office.

"Congress was the place that I could make the biggest difference," he said.

The 18th Congressional District includes most of Stanislaus and Merced counties and parts of San Joaquin, Madera and Fresno counties.

Jim DeMartini, chairman of the Stanislaus County GOP, expects Kanno to run a strong campaign, but acknowledges the difficulty in pulling off a victory.

"It's hard for a Republican to win the way the district is gerrymandered," DeMartini said.

But, he adds, "I think the guy is pretty bright and will probably work pretty hard. He's got as good of a chance as any."

Bee Capitol Bureau reporter Eric Stern can be reached at 916-326-5544 or