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Originally published August 29, 2012 at 8:55 PM | Page modified August 29, 2012 at 10:09 PM

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Eastsider who's Muslim immigrant stands out as champion of GOP

Hossein Khorram, an Iranian American and Washington state delegate to the Republican National Convention, says he feels perfectly welcome in a party known more for being dominated by white Christians.

Seattle Times political reporter

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TAMPA, Fla. — As an immigrant and Muslim, Hossein Khorram stands out in the crowd at the Republican National Convention.

One of Washington's 43 delegates, the Iranian-American apartment-building developer from Clyde Hill has acted as a compelling evangelist for the GOP this week.

He's done regular political analysis, in Farsi, for a Voice of America program broadcast from the convention floor, as well as interviews with several other media outlets.

It's easy to see why the Republican Party — which consistently struggles to attract minority voters — is happy to have him as a spokesman.

Khorram, 50, whose family fled Iran when he was 17, says he feels perfectly welcome in a party perceived as dominated by white Christians.

In 2008, Khorram notes, he was elected as a delegate for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the favored candidate of conservative evangelicals.

"The Republican Party doesn't differentiate on color or religion or race. It differentiates on achievement," he said. "In our state I have not felt one iota worth of difference between me, a Muslim, being on a Christian slate."

He cheerfully argues to anyone who will listen that the GOP's free-market principles are more beneficial to minorities — and everyone else, for that matter — than the Democrats' defense of entitlements.

"Democrats have basically presented the minorities with a package of handouts, which has actually held people down," he said. "That is not how this country was built. It was built on entrepreneurship."

Despite the enthusiasm of Republicans like Khorram, polls show the party struggling mightily for support among minorities.

One recent poll found presidential candidate Mitt Romney with zero percent support from African Americans. The GOP also faces a major gap among Latinos — an important and growing voting bloc.

That's no accident, critics say, pointing to the party's support for rigid immigration laws and voter-identification efforts seen as ways to suppress the minority vote.

And in the current presidential campaign, Republicans have been accused of race baiting for continuing to make the false claim that President Obama wiped out a work requirement for welfare recipients. (The claim has been vetted and ruled untrue by several nonpartisan fact-checking organizations.)

Khorram says he's aware of the stereotype of the GOP as a party for white people. And he's heard about conservatives making anti-Muslim or racist statements that have made the news. But he brushes those off, attributing them to "frustrations or a lack of knowledge."

His arguments for the GOP are largely upbeat. Unlike some Republicans, Khorram doesn't accuse Obama of malevolent intentions. When Obama says he wants to help the middle class, Khorram takes him at his word.

"I don't think he's making that up. He's a very good man. I'm really proud to have him as our president," Khorram said.

Obama's election in 2008 "shows that people can achieve their dreams regardless of their backgrounds," he said, noting Obama's middle name, Hussein, is similar to his own first name.

But Khorram says Obama's good intentions have failed to produce the economic turnabout the country needs, because his plans have been too government-centric.

He complains that his own development business is unable to go through with two planned apartment projects in Bellevue — which he estimates could put hundreds of people to work — because federal lending regulations have made it harder to get construction loans from banks.

Over the past several years, Khorram has become an increasingly important volunteer and fundraiser in King County Republican circles. He's a political-contribution bundler for Romney and estimates he's raised $100,000 for his campaign.

"Hossein is one of those people when you ask him if he will do something, he not only says yes, he delivers 150 percent. He puts his whole heart into it," said Lori Sotelo, who chairs the King County Republican Party. "We are truly lucky and blessed to have him in the party."

Khorram hopes more will follow his lead.

"What Republicans are offering is an opportunity," he said. "The door is wide open."

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner.

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