NEW YORK – It’s déjà vu time: an Indian American woman, a Democrat, is running for office, inspired by her disgust for President Trump. She’s up against a Republican opponent, also a woman. There’s plenty of money being poured into the race; especially from the Republican side. Both parties look at the race as a harbinger of things to come in the midterm elections.
In November, Democrat Manka Dhingra, an attorney by training, had won a Washington state Senate seat, pitted against Republican Jinyoung Lee Englund. It was a nationally watched electoral race; apart from it being the costliest in the state’s Senate race history, with more than $8.5 million spent on the outcome.
That win by Dhingra, a debutant for public office, inspired by the fear of minorities she saw in her district after Trump became President, not only swung the state into the fold of the Democrats, it put all three states on the West Coast in the hands of the party. It was a resounding loss for the Republicans.
Now, it’s the turn of Democrat Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an emergency room physician in Arizona, to try do an encore in her US congressional race against Republican opponent Debbie Lesko, a veteran politician who has been a state legislator for a decade.
Like Dhingra, Tipirneni is also a political novice. She’s vying for public office because of Trump being a “poor role model.” The race on April 24 pits two women against each other for the first time in a congressional race since Trump assumed office.
Tipirneni and Lesko are up for the seat of Trent Franks, a disgraced Republican who quit after sexual misconduct charges. He was accused of offering $5 million to an aide to be a surrogate mother. Franks built up his credibility as a conservative Republican by advocating for anti-abortion, till he was outed as a hypocrite.
It’s not going to be easy for Tipirneni, though.
The New York Times reported that the 8th Congressional district’s population is heavily religious and retired, and so conservative that Democrats did not field a candidate in the last two elections. The district is 41 percent Republican and 24 percent Democrat, with 35 percent independent or otherwise affiliated.
The Republican National Committee, however, has already spent around $300,000 to bolster Lesko, a sign, Democrats say, of Republican concern. They fear another upset on the lines of Doug Jones in Alabama and Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania.
Also, unlike the huge financial support for Dhingra, Tipirneni is not seeing the same, despite her winning the primary by garnering 60% of the votes. The Arizona Capitol Times reported that Democratic counterparts have left Dr. Hiral Tipirneni “to fend for herself.”
However, what’s truly encouraging for Tipirneni is that Democrat voters in the district are energized, turned up in larger numbers than in past such elections.
Tipirneni’s message of Trump’s tax cuts benefiting only wealthy businesses, not the middle class and small businesses, and advocating universal health coverage – dismissed emphatically by Lesko – is practical and reasonable. Voters are alarmed by cut in programs like Social Security and Medicare to make up for new revenue shortfalls
AZCentral.com reported that in a 30-minute debate on Channel 8’s ‘Horizon’, the two women sparred along predictable party lines over tax policy and Trump’s “behavior”.
And perhaps, that aspect of morality of Trump, which has dominated national headlines since he took office in the White House, may spur many moderate Republican voters to side with Tipirneni.
Ironically, Trump’s stature amongst conservative middle class women voters got a significant boost this month through television, with the revival of ‘Roseanne’.
If those voters in the Midwestern and rust belt areas were beginning to despair and flail against their own choice for president, what with the number of anti-Trump stories that get churned out daily, they got heartened by a lead character who firmly stands behind Trump, railing against her Democrat leaning sister, who favors Hillary Clinton.
For Tipirneni, the path to glory has got harder because of ‘Roseanne’ on ABC network, which has become a sort of new rallying point for beginning-to-become-disillusioned-with Trump voters. They have found new conviction and confidence that they voted for the right candidate.
If Tipirneni wins, or even comes close, it will be a statement that that audience numbers for entertainment shows on TV are not the same as voter numbers on poll day.
Tipirneni will be heartened by the support and endorsement she got this week from the Political Action Committee, Indian-American Impact Fund, co-founded by Raj Goyle, a former member of the Kansas House of Representatives, and Deepak Raj, Chairman of Pratham USA.
But if funds dry up from the Democratic National Committee, in the last leg of her race, Tipirneni may find the going all the more harder in her quest to emulate Dhingra.
(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: email@example.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)