FRANK F ISLAM
With candidates representing both parties, reflecting the diversity within the Indian American population, the community’s influence is set to rise further.
The 2024 election season in the United States (US) kicked off on Monday, January 15 with the Iowa Caucus featuring two Indian American Republican candidates. While insurgent candidate Vivek Ramaswamy bowed out after finishing fourth, former South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, emerged with a strong showing and is now poised to give former President Donald Trump a run for his money in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, January 23.
If Haley delivers a credible performance in the first-in-the-nation primary, her supporters believe she stands a good chance of becoming a serious rival to Trump for the GOP nomination. Even if she doesn’t secure the nomination, many commentators believe that Haley could be a strong contender for the position as the former president’s running mate in November. Should that scenario unfold, we might witness two Indian Americans on the vice-presidential ticket, given that incumbent vice president Kamala Harris is almost certain to be on the Democratic ticket. It’s not just in the presidential election that Indian American candidates are making waves. With the high-calibre candidates running in various congressional districts and statehouses, there is a strong likelihood of an increased presence of Indian Americans in the US Congress and state legislatures.
All five Indian American members in Congress — Ami Bera, Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Shri Thanedar — are seeking re-election. They are expected to retain their seats comfortably due to the advantages of incumbency and their substantial campaign funding. In addition, candidates from a wide range of congressional districts across the country from New York to California, and from Illinois to Alabama, are aiming to join the ranks of these five. Here’s a look at some of those candidates.
Kevin Thomas: New York state senator Kevin Thomas, a Democrat running from the state’s fourth congressional district, is one of the frontrunners to become the sixth Indian American member of the 119th Congress. Currently represented by first-term GOP Rep. Anthony D’Esposito, the district has leaned Democratic, having sided with the party’s nominee in each of the past eight presidential elections. This trend gives Thomas a strong chance to be elected if he wins the primary.
Suhas Subramanyam and Krystle Kaul: Two Indian Americans, both alums of the Obama administration, are vying for the Democratic Party nomination in Virginia’s open 10th congressional district. Subramanyam, a Virginia state senator, has been serving in the state legislature for the past four years. Kaul, a veteran of the defence and intelligence community, is running on her national security experience. She previously held the position of director of strategic communications (GS-15) at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. If either of them wins the primary, they would be formidable candidates to represent this Democratic-leaning district.
Niraj Antani: Ohio state senator Niraj Antani, seeking the GOP nomination from the Buckeye state’s second congressional district, is trying to be the second Indian American Republican member of Congress after Bobby Jindal. The 32-year-old, who has been in the state legislature since 2014, is more or less certain to get elected to Congress if he wins the Republican primary, as the district is heavily Republican.
Amish Shah: State Rep. Amish Shah, the first Indian American elected to the Arizona legislature, is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for Arizona’s first congressional district. The district is currently represented by Republican David Schweikert and leans slightly Republican (+2 according to the Cook Political Report). However, Shah, an emergency physician, has already raised more than $1 million for his campaign so far and will have a fair shot in November if he wins the primary.
In addition to these candidates, there are two other Indian American Democrats who are seeking their party’s nomination for two Democratic-leaning open seats. They are Susheela Jayapal, a candidate for Oregon’s third congressional district, and Rishi Kumar, who is running for California’s 16th congressional district. Both are strong candidates who have run for office before and have name recognition. Jayapal, the older sister of Rep. Pramila Jayapal, served as the commissioner of Oregon’s most populous county, Multnomah County. In 2020, when he ran for Congress last, Kumar secured nearly 37% of the votes against the incumbent and fellow Democrat Anna Eshoo, who is now retiring.
Numerous highly qualified and experienced Indian American candidates are also vying for statewide offices in this election cycle. According to Indian American Impact, an organisation dedicated to strengthening the political influence of the community, there are already more than 200 Indian Americans holding positions ranging from school boards and city councils to state assemblies and senates.
That number is likely to grow in November, with several Indian Americans having announced their candidacies for statewide offices. They include: Minita Sanghvi, a Democrat currently serving as the Saratoga Springs finance commissioner, vying for the 44th state senate district in New York; Tara Sreekrishnan, a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, running for the California state assembly from district 26; Ashwin Ramaswami seeking election to the Georgia state senate from senate district 48; and Seema Singh, a member of the Knoxville City Council, running for district 90 of the Tennessee house of representatives.
In summary, with candidates representing both major political parties, reflecting the diversity and talent within the Indian American population, the community’s political influence is set to rise further.
The current election cycle is shaping up to be historic for the Indian American community at every level, from local to the presidential. At the national level, one should not be surprised if November 2024 mirrors November 2016 when the size of the Indian American congressional delegation quadrupled from one to four.