Indian-Americans Take Center Stage in US Presidential Race

While the twice-impeached Trump still leads the Republican pack as the voters’ best bet in November, it is Haley who right now holds a bigger lead over…writes Meenakshi Iyer

 As the US sounded the 60th quadrennial presidential poll bugle for 2024, close to 20 candidates jumped the fray from both sides of the campaign, amid tensions over the country’s economy, abortion, war, democracy and foreign policy.

Of these, four Indian-Americans threw their hats in the ring with the community emerging on the US national political stage in a way it never did before in the history of the country.

As of today, from the Democrats’ side, President Joe Biden remains the party’s presumptive nominee and Indian-American Kamala Devi Harris his running mate with opponents targeting his age, saying: “a vote for Biden is a vote for Harris”.

Having already made history as the country’s first Indian-origin Vice President, Harris will be the first in line to be the President if anything happens to Biden, who in turn has made history as the oldest American President at 81.

From the Republican side, three candidates are jostling to be their party’s presidential nominee, which includes a lone Indian-American, a woman, who has time and again told her competitors in a race dominated by men — “underestimate me, that’ll be fun”.

Nikki Haley, former South Carolina Governor and the political heavyweight among all the Indian-origin candidates, became the first candidate to challenge Donald Trump, the behemoth in the Republican field, as she announced her run on February 14.

While the twice-impeached Trump still leads the Republican pack as the voters’ best bet in November, it is Haley who right now holds a bigger lead over

President Biden than either Trump or Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in potential head-to-head match-ups, according to a recent CBS/YouGov poll.

An Emerson College Polling/WHDH New Hampshire survey released last week found Haley sitting at 28 per cent in the state’s presidential primary, up from 18 per cent in November 2023.

With the New Hampshire primary scheduled for January 23, and South Carolina on February 3, the former UN Ambassador said that the Republican presidential race will be a contest between her and Trump.

On being asked by the CBS what she would say to voters who like her for vice president but who are still backing Trump, Haley said: “Well, I think look, if you want four more years of chaos, that’s what you’re gonna get.”

A vocal Israel supporter in its ongoing war with the Hamas, Haley hopes to crack down on China’s influence on the US economy, and advocates for a return of the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy as well as the defunding of sanctuary cities to tackle illegal immigration.

Giving the 51-year-old Haley a tough fight in the debates was another Indian-American — 38-year-old Vivek Ramaswamy — who campaigned non-stop as a fast-talking, headline-grabbing populist, relentless in his support for Trump and his policies.

The Haley-Ramaswamy verbal duels became a staple feature of the Republican presidential debates with the former calling the fellow Indian-American a “scum” and a foreign policy novice, in return for being attacked as “corrupt” and “fascist”.

After a disappointing finish in Iowa, the biotech entrepreneur dropped out of the race on January 15, endorsing Trump, whom he has eulogised as the “best President of the 21st century”.

Speculation is rife that Vivek will be Trump’s running mate, especially after the GOP frontrunner announced at his victory speech in New Hampshire: “He’s gonna be working with us and he’ll be working with us for a long time”.

“You have to sit and wonder, we have these two folks (Haley and Vivek) who are showing these all-star abilities — will we end up with an Indian-American on this ticket?” Sara Sadhwani, an assistant professor of politics at Pomona College and co-author of the Indian American Election Survey, was quoted as saying in ABC News.

The other two Indian-Americans in the race — aerospace engineer Hirsh Vardhan Singh and scientist and entrepreneur Shiva Ayyadurai — sank without a trace.

Announcing his campaign bid in August as an independent, Mumbai-born Ayyadurai said he wants to serve America, beyond “Left” and “Right” to deliver solutions people need and deserve.

In his campaign bid, he said that the old guard of career politicians, political hacks, lawyer-lobbyists and academics who pervade the country and local government with corruption and crony capitalism stop America from becoming great.

Ayyadurai left India in 1970 and came to live the American dream along with his parents and settled in Paterson, New Jersey.

A Fulbright Scholar with four degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Ayyadurai had expressed interest in taking up the position of Twitter’s chief executive officer last year.

Singh, 38, introduced himself as a lifelong Republican and an “America First constitutional carry and pro-life conservative who helped restore the conservative wing of New Jersey’s Republican Party starting in 2017”.

According to Singh, who ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 2020, Americans face grave threats from the corruption of both, big tech and big pharma, and in addition, there is an all out attack on American family values, parental rights and open debate.

Calling Trump as the “greatest president of my lifetime”, Singh, who is labelled as “Trump on steroids” by Democrats, said that “America needs more”.

Nevertheless, accounting for about 1.3 per cent of the country’s population, the Indian-American candidates represent a remarkable shift in American politics, inspiring their future generations and other minorities to run for office and engage in public service.

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