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Indian Americans try their luck at primaries

world Updated: Jun 04, 2014 02:02 IST
Yashwant Raj
Indian American

Indian American Neel Kashkari has finally inched ahead of his Tea Party rival for the Republican ticket to challenge incumbent Democratic governor Gerry Brown of California.

In an increasingly ugly contest in the same state, Rohit “Ro” Khanna is trying to unseat fellow Democratic member of the House of Representatives Mike Honda.

They and scores of others running for US congress — both the House and the Senate — will face their first real test at the countrywide primaries on Tuesday.

Many of them, such as Upendra Chivukula in New Jersey, are of Indian origin, trying to follow in the footsteps of Ami Bera, the solitary Indian-origin congressman. Bera won a close contest in 2012, becoming the only Indian American in US congress, and the third ever. He began his re-election term campaign the next day.

California has the largest population of Indian Americans, and has been a tantalizingly tempting challenge for members of the community looking for political clout.

But the state has been generally Democratic leaning — with glaring exceptions such as Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger — disadvantaging Kashkari.

The former treasury official, iconised in print and celluloid accounts of the rescue of the recession-hit US economy, has invested a fair share of his personal wealth into the fight.

Even if he wins the party ticket, can he beat Brown?

Khanna, in comparison, is understood to be in a much better place in a fight that’s caught the attention of the country as one of the most watched races of 2014.

And a fight that’s been so acrimonious Silicon Valley eminences grises such as Kanwal Rekhi have had to publicly appeal for temperance, especially from Honda’s campaign. "I am appalled to see the campaign mailer that was sent out to voters in the 17th district by the Working for Us Political Action Committee," said Rekhi in a public letter to Honda.

The mailer, sent by a PAC not overtly linked to Honda, is crudely cheesy cautioning voters against Khanna’s origins — being an Indian he will ship US jobs to India. The mailer said in bold red headlines: "Don’t let Ro Khanna outsource our jobs" and "Sending jobs overseas. Ro Khanna." Khanna has never given cause for such concerns. "This is the crudest form of racially coded language," said Rekhi in a letter issued jointly with leaders of the Indian American community. Khanna could stay in the race even if he finishes second behind Honda, under California’s unique first-two-past-the-post format for the primaries.

Also in the fray is another Indian American, Vanilla Singh, running for the Republican ticket.