HomeBad Ass AsiansGabbard and Harris battle for Indian American support

Gabbard and Harris battle for Indian American support

Kamala Harris & Tulsi Gabbard

Views from the Edge

Indian Americans find themselves in the middle of America’s culture wars fueled by the anti-immigrant policies of Donald Trump.

Trump’s anti-Muslim ban, new limits on H-1B visas and stricter rules making it harder to unite families have given South Asians more than enough reason to pay attention to the political happenings affecting their lives.

The political awareness generated a surge of  by  of Indian American candidates that took part in the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterms running for Congress, state legislatures and local city and county races.

The rapid immersion into U.S. politics perhaps can be explained by the English fluency and higher education of the immigrants coming from South Asia.

This year, the candidacies of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Sen. Kamala Harris are giving Indian Americans more incentive to take part ine high-stakes 2020 elections.

Although born in Samoa and raised in Hawaii, Gabbard is the first Hindu to run for president. After winning reelection in 2018 and before she announced her presidential ambition, Gabbard consulted with members of the Indian American community from around the country about the possibility of a Hindu running for president.

She listened to their concerns and talked about the fund-raising potential of the community and what kind of logistics or voluntary support the community can provide to her in case she decides to run.

Gabbard’s early groundwork seems to have borne fruit. According to AAPI Data, based out of the University of California, Riverside, that publishes data and policy research on the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, in the first quarter that ended March 31, Gabbard had raised more than $237,000 from the Indian American community. Contributions also came from Indian green card holders in the U.S.– who can legally contribute to U.S. political campaigns, according to India Abroad.

By contrast, Harris, who is half Indian and half Jamaican, was able to raise only $76,300 from tIndian American sources. She wasn’t even second in fundraising from Indian Americans. New Jersey’s U.S. Senator Cory Booker received more than $131,000 from the Indian American and Indian community mostly based in his state where 370,000 people of Indian descent reside. 

Asian American support for Democrats in 2020

Harris’ apparent lack of support in the Indian American community is changing though as the race for the Democratic nomination for POTUS continues.

Harris’s home state of California where she was born and raised and where she went on to be elected District Attorney of San Francisco followed by her election as the state’s  Attorney General and in 2016, she became a U.S. Senator, boasts of an Indian population of over 712,000.

Harris, one of the front-runners among the 21-candidate field of Democrat hopefuls, has had mixed results in garnering the support of Indian Americans. While generating excitement among the community that one of their own is running for the highest office in the land, Indian Americans seen to be holding back, hoping for a bold statement of her Indian heritage.

Towards this end, last month, Harris was able to secure the early endorsement of the Indian American Impact Fund, a nationwide PAC.

“In such a critically important election, one that will shape policy and politics for generations to come, Indian Americans can’t afford to stay on the sidelines,” the Impact Fund’s co-founder Raj Goyle said in a statement. Goyle, also a former Kansas state lawmaker, said it was for that reason that the organization chose to be “the first Indian-American or Asian American political organization to endorse” Harris, media reports say. “In the coming months, we look forward to mobilizing our network of resources to ensure Senator Harris secures the Democratic nomination and is elected the next president of the U.S.,” Goyle said.

Harris,  whose mother was from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, thanked the Impact Fund for the endorsement. “This endorsement and the support of the Indian American Impact Fund and its members means so much to me,” she said in a statement. “Together, we will fight for an America that restores the values of truth and justice and works for working people, from raising incomes to expanding health care.” The Impact Fund Executive Director and former Maryland state delegate Aruna Miller said, “When there is a large pool of candidates like this, early support, early money, and yes, an early endorsement, is central to minority candidates, who have been historically marginalized, like women of color.” Harris, continued Aruna,  “is a tested leader who has demonstrated, throughout her career, a strong commitment to our community’s progressive and pluralistic values.” Longtime Democratic fund-raiser, Ramesh Kapur, a strong supporter of Harris, has promised to raise over $10 million from the Indian American community for Harris, and has scheduled a fund-raiser at his home in Winchester, Massachusetts, later this month.

Asian American support for 2020 presidential candidates

Harris also has a more diverse set of backers. Overall, next to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, Harris has raised the most money in the first quarter among all the candidates outperforming white-male favorites and mainstream media darlings Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg.

Nevertheless, Harris has not been a shoo-in among Indian American voters, an indication indicating the danger of the tendency of mainstream media to lump all voters of a particular gender or ethnic group into one monolithic lump. Like the U.S. population overall, there are generational divides that complicate the ethnic votes with the older voters opting for more conservative candidates and millennials and GenX sides with more progressive candidates. “Absolutely, there are generational issues, there is Hindu nationalism and Indian politics, playing a significant role here,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, founder and director of AAPI Data, He believes that Harris’ support among Indian American voters will grow as the contest continues through the summer and fall. Gabbard’s support from far-right politicians and groups in India who have been unabashly anti-Muslim and her early positions against same-sex marriage have hurt her among Gen Xers and Millennials who tend to be more tolerant eveen after she renounced those connections. 

The lack of a consensus among Indian Americans is not surprising. It is still too early in the election cycle. 

In polls of all voters, regardless of race, Gabbard remains near the bottom. Harris tops all women candidates and remains near the top, just behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke.

As the field of 21 (so far) Democratic candidates weeds itself out, Indian Americans, as well as other ethnic groups, will start to make their choices among the last men and women left standing.

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