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US midterm polls: All eyes on Indian-Americans, 4 of 12 incumbents seek re-election

Four of the 12 Indian-Americans are incumbents seeking re-election, all Democrats: Ami Bera and Ro Khanna from California, Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois and Pramila Jayapal from the state of Washington.

world Updated: Nov 05, 2018 09:56 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
Indian-Americans,Pete Olson,Sri Preston Kulkarni
Democrat for Congress candidate Sri Kulkarni, center, listens to supporters attending a fundraiser for him in Houston. Kulkarni is running against Republican US Rep. Pete Olson.(AP )

A woman berated Pete Olson, a Republican running for re-election from Texas, at a campaign stopover recently for calling his Democratic challenger an “Indo-American carpetbagger” and soon the candidate’s election pitch turned into a debate over race, politics and Americanness.

Sri Preston Kulkarni, the challenger, is one of at least 12 Indian-Americans running for US Congress in the midterm elections to be held on Tuesday. Irrespective of the outcome, it is a major milestone for the tiny minority community of 4 million that has started courting political clout in recent years.

They are mostly Democrats and their fate, therefore, would reflect on the Democratic party’s plans to flip the House of Representatives, winning an additional 23 seats it needs to wrest control of the chamber from Republicans, which would be a major setback for president Donald Trump.

Democrats already have those numbers, according to polls, and the Indian-Americans in fray might provide the extra cushion to seal it.

Four of the 12 Indian-Americans are incumbents seeking re-election, all Democrats: Ami Bera and Ro Khanna from California, Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois and Pramila Jayapal from the state of Washington.

The others are challengers and not mere pushovers. Six of them are Democrats: Kulkarni, Aftab Pureval (Ohio), Hiral Tiperneni (Arizona), Anita Malik (Arizona), Sanjay Patel (Florida) and Chintan Desai (Arkansas). The two Republicans are Harry Arora (Connecticut) and Jitendra Diganvker (Illinois), who is running against Krishnamoorthi.

Also, there is Shiva Ayyadurai, who is running for the US senate from Massachusetts as an independent against incumbent Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who is expected to challenge Trump for the White House in 2020.

“We are confident that all four incumbents will win their re-elections,” said Gautam Raghavan, executive director of the Indian-American Impact Fund, a body that is organising support for the Democrat candidates. “Of the rest, I think we could potentially win up to three new seats in Congress, but given the unpredictability of this midterm election cycle, I wouldn’t be surprised by any outcome.”

Shekar Narasimhan, a leading Democratic strategist and donor, said, “The four incumbents are all fine. We could get lucky and have one more.”

The 2018 election cycle has been momentous for the Indian-American community. Not only did an unprecedented number of them get through the primaries and into the final stage — at least 12 —but also those running for state, city and local bodies. Over 100 of them started off and 40 or so remain in the race.

That says a lot, according to Raghavan. First, the community has fully embraced the importance of political engagement. Second, it is genuinely concerned about what’s at stake: racism and rising xenophobia.

First Published: Nov 04, 2018 23:58 IST