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A record number of Indian Americans are aiming for midterm polls in US

A record number of Indian-Americans are contesting the crucial November midterm polls in US.

, ET Bureau|
Updated: Sep 16, 2018, 06.35 AM IST
A record number of Indian Americans – 37 — ran for the US Congress this year; 30 were non-incumbent challengers.
The upcoming midterm polls in the US is keeping the activists of Indian American Impact Fund (IAIF) busy these days. The Washington DC-based political action committee, which works with candidates from the community running for the US elections, recently endorsed Anita Malik, the Democratic candidate running for the US Congress to represent Arizona’s 6th Congressional district. It has already endorsed Democrats Aftab Pureval (Ohio), Sri Kulkarni (Texas) and Hiral Tipirneni (Arizona) — all of whom are making first time bids for the Congress.

IAIF only endorses Indian American candidates in US elections. Its backing helps a candidate effectively reach out to the diaspora to raise money and support.

The midterm polls, due in November, will decide the makeup of the US Congress — comprising the House of Representatives (HoR) and the Senate. All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 out of the 100-strong Senate and 36 out of 50 state governorships, along with many state and local offices, will be up for grabs. If Republicans lose control of either chamber of Congress, President Donald Trump’s agenda will face roadblocks. This makes the elections crucial for the Trump administration.

There are 16 Indian Americans in the fray now. Out of the 32 candidates in the running for HoR seats, 18 lost in primary elections, 9 won and 5 are yet to contest their primaries. Of the three in the race for the Senate, one has lost the primaries, another has won and the primary election for the third is yet to be held. Primaries are preliminary elections held before the general polls where voters select candidates for a particular office at the federal, state or local level. A win in the primary round confirms a seat for the candidate in the general election. A candidate can lose the preliminary election but still continue to be in the race if she has a high enough vote share and campaign money.

A record number of Indian Americans – 37 — ran for the US Congress this year; 30 were non-incumbent challengers. “This reflects a surge of energy and enthusiasm in our community for public service and politics,” says Gautam Raghavan, executive director, IAIF. “That said,many of these candidates were running in highly competitive races and were up against well-funded candidates. Some subsequently lost their primary campaigns."

The IAIF leadership is optimistic that at least one, if not two, new members of Congress from the Indian-American community will be elected this November. In 2016, Kamala Harris was elected to the Senate, while Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, and Raja Krishnamoorthi were elected to Congress for the first time. Ami Bera was re-elected to the Congress. Harris does not have to run again till 2022. The others appear to be safe with their seats after the primaries.
The two most hotly contested races the community members are closely watching are Aftab Pureval¡¦s Congressional campaign in Ohio and Josh Kaul¡¦s campaign for attorney general of Wisconsin. The campaigns of Congressional candidates Sri Kulkarni in Texas and Hiral Tipirneni and Anita Malik in Arizona are also being keenly followed.

"We are seeing tremendous support from the entire desi community," says Kulkarni, who joined politics after 14 years in the foreign service. He resigned in the fall of 2017 when he could no longer justify the actions of the Trump administration. "We are calling voters in 13 languages - Hindi, Gujarati, Telugu and many more - and going to temples, mosques, gurdwaras, and churches all over our diverse district. And the results are showing. In the Democratic primary, we increased Asian-American turnout 12 times over." He adds that it is clear the South Asian community is building its power and finding its voice in this election, and that he is proud to be a part of it. Kulkarni is running against Pete Olson, a 10-year Republican incumbent.

In an all-desi race in Schaumburg, Illinois, businessman Jitendra Diganvker is running on a Republican ticket against incumbent representative Raja Krishnamoorthi. "I have lived in Chicago for over two decades and enjoy a lot of support from the Indian American community. My campaign is very personalised and I feel they are attracted to my support for a stronger India-America strategic relationship and overhaul of the immigration policy," Diganvker says. There are over 5 million people of Indian origin in the US, "but you don't yet see thousands contesting elections at all levels," he adds.

The political ambitions of the community look bright as various organisations such as the US India Political Action Committee galvanise support for candidates, raise funds, give them access to donors and help them increase their profile within the Democratic and Republican leadership.

"We are seeing a convergence behind candidates," says Rishi Kumar, who is running for reelection to the Saratoga City Council, in California. "As Indian Americans, we are in a new country and we truly understand the importance of team work and collaboration. This November, some races can have a slim margin of victory so it is very important to stay united."

Anita Malik (Democrat): The daughter of Indian immigrants quit as chief operating officer of a content technology company in May 2017 to run for the US House of Representatives for Arizona’s 6th district.

Aftab Pureval (Democrat): He is the first Democrat to hold the office of the Hamilton County Clerk of Courts in more than 100 years. Pureval is seeking to enter the House of Representatives from the first Congressional district of Ohio.

Sri Preston Kulkarni (Democrat): A diplomat for 15 years, he gave up his career in foreign service to run for Congress from the 22nd district of Texas.

Hiral Tipirneni (Democrat): Her family migrated to the US when she was 3 and is now a doctor running in Arizona’s 8th Congressional district. Though she faced a defeat against Republican and former state senator Debbie Lesko, she still remains in the race in November.

Jitendra Diganvker (Republican): The Chicago businessman is running against incumbent representative Raja Krishnamoorthi in Illinois’ 8th district.

Indian American candidates in Congressional (US House and Senate) elections in 2014 and 2016 2014: Ro Khanna (lost), Ami Bera (re-election), Manan Trivedi (lost), Satish Korpe (lost), Arvin Vohra (lost) 2016: Ro Khanna (won), Ami Bera (reelection), Pramila Jayapal (won), Raja Krishnamoorthi (won), Kamala Harris (won), Ravi Patel (lost), Kumar Barve (lost), Peter Jacob (lost), Mary Thomas (lost), Anil Kumar (lost).
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