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Gillespie banks on Indian-origins

world Updated: Jul 27, 2014 00:32 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times
Ed Gillespie

He believes India is right to be concerned about US plans for Afghanistan, supports immigration reforms that don't hurt India, and backs a non-profit that promotes basketball in India.

Ed Gillespie could be running for office in India. But the Republican is in the race for senate from Virginia, hoping to unseat Mark Warner, a Democrat who co-chairs the senate's India caucus, in November elections.

"I would be on the same caucus, if elected" Gillespie said in an interview. "I would make sure I was active on that front. It is of importance to a very important part of our electorate here."

Gillespie is a former chairman of the Republican Party, White House counsel to president George W Bush and Mitt Romney's top strategist for his White House run in 2012.

And, he said, is concerned about the state of ties with India, which he said "were never better before or after" Bush, whom he served during the India-US nuclear deal.

The problem, now? "I think when the United States recedes from a leadership role in the world, the world becomes a more dangerous place. I believe that the lack of prioritisation for this president, his administration, of playing a leadership role is reflected in US-India relations as well."

There are about 120,000 Indian-Americans in Virginia, mostly prosperous and acutely conscious of their growing political clout stemming from their numbers and checkbooks.

They have tended to vote for Democrats, as Indian-Americans in other states — the only member of the House of Representatives from the community is a Democrat, from California.

Republicans have struggled to connect with ethnic minorities such as Asian Americans, that include those of Indian descent, Americans of Hispanic origin and African-Americans.

It hasn't helped that only Indian-Americans ever elected governors in the US are both Republican — Nikki Haley in South Carolina and Bobby Jindal in Louisiana.

Gillespie knows all that well, having seen from close quarters how Republican Party candidate Romney lost to Barack Obama in 2012, in an election that was for the president to lose.

"Honestly, we have not done a good enough job as a party communicating to many communities," he said, adding: "And one of the things I have been doing is to change that."

As Republican Party chairman, he built important bridgeheads to African-Americans and Hispanics. Now, as a senate candidate he is building on them, and adding. He has met Indian-American community leaders, visited the largest Korean church in Virginia and ordered copies of his main campaign pamphlet in Spanish and Korean

"Ed has checked all the right boxes," said Puneet Ahluwalia, a Virginian tasked by the Republican Party to spearhead its outreach to Indian Americans.

Gillespie's campaign website highlights his support for Crossover Basketball and Scholars Academy, a non-profit that promotes character building through basketball in India.

His son and daughter John and Mollie, he offered excitedly, returned recently from a Crossover camp in Chennai, which, he added, was a great experience for them.

Has he been to India himself? "No, but would love to."