Debating Debates: Indian-American Democrats discuss 2020 presidential candidates


Two pairs of debates where some 20 Democratic candidates sounded off on their plans or lack thereof  were they to become the chosen one to be for the White House run, have taken place so far, the last one on July 31.

Sen.Kamala Harris gestures at former VP Joe Biden during July 31, 2019 Presidential debate held in Detroit Photo:Reuters/ Lucas Jackson.

As the Democratic candidates slug it out, some Indian-Americans who watched and/or read about the debates, spoke to News India Times about who they felt came out on top, or why they wanted to keep counsel and decide on their favorite candidate later.

Surveys, including by the Pew Research Center, have shown that more than 60 percent of Indian-Americans lean Democratic, and around 30 percent are uncommitted.

Last week a Los Angeles Times analysis of Federal Election Commission data showed this community had already contributed more than $3 million to Democratic candidates for President, with the largest amount going to Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, followed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey. It made the nation, or at least most politically aware voters, sit up and pay attention to this 1 percent of the U.S. population. (

So their views as the highest earning, highest educated minority counts for the Democratic Party to massage as a voting block, but also for Republicans to bring more to its side.

Shekar Narasimhan, founder of the PAC AAPI Victory Fund which is hosting the “2019 AAPI Democratic Presidential Forum” in September, told News India Times, “I am not supporting anybody and will not be endorsing anyone till our own Forum.” But Narasimhan says he observed a big difference between the two rounds of debates.

“The second one was much more lively, everybody was trying to draw their positions out clearly on health, climate change, immigration,” and despite criticizing each other, he saw a a high level of “principled unanimity” on defeating Trump. He was “very impressed” by Gabbard, and noted that the Hawaii Congresswoman, along with Indian-American Harris, and Booker ‘did very well’. “Another one to watch is Andrew Yang,” he said.

But Narasimhan’s biggest complaint about the July 31 debate was, “Not once was the word ‘Asian Americans’ mentioned.”

Nobody will speak to us directly if we don’t do it ourselves, he contended, which is why AAPI Victory Fund is hosting the September forum. Democratic candidates, Narasimhan said, were speaking directly to African Americans, Latinos, and women in the suburbs, “But where do they say to us – we’re speaking for Indian Americans, Vietnamese Americans … we are with you?” he questions.

Angela Anand, president of the National Federation of Indian Associations, who lives in Virginia, one of the swing states, said she was yet to decide, but was impressed by Gabbard in the last debate. “For a while I favored Tulsi, ten it became Kamala Harris,” Anand told News India Times. In the July 30 debate, she liked Senators Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont.

She also concurred with Narasimhan that the candidates were trying to differentiate themselves and becoming more specific. “However, it looks like Kamala Harris is getting a lot of our support. But there is a general feeling that an incumbent is stronger,” she said about her interactions with Indian-Americans.

While Trump had enormous fundraising capabilities, Anand said, youth, labor, and oter groups would support a Democrat. The NFIA which she heads, is also holding a two-day event on Capitol Hill Sept. 19 and 20, including a Congressional Lunch, and a White House briefing as well as a Women’s Conference, she said, where discussions are expected to center around 2020.

“I was surprised at how good Tulsi Gabbard was,” said Maryland Assemblyman Kumar Barve. But no matter the debates, “To me it is all about swing states. Everyone else is irrelevant. I am irrelevant. It is the suburbs of Philadelphia, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee – that is where the next President will be elected from.”

Barve foresees a scenario however, where former Vice President Joe Biden secures the nomination because he “would be most appealing in swing states.” He hastened to add that he was not endorsing anyone. “I am happy to support whoever the Democratic nominee is.”

Amit Jani, founder of NJLeads, a program that prepares Indian-Americans and South Asian Americans for political activism and public office, believes the debates went as predicted.

“Objectively speaking, it was exactly as we thought. Biden would be the target because he is the front runner. But also, there’s increased attention to Kamala including attacks on her from for example, Tulsi Gabbard. All in all however, it was par for the course.”

“I like Joe Biden and he did a pretty good job this time compared to the last debate,” Jani said. “I like Joe Biden because he is more centrist. A lot of folks are going far left. Biden is more in line with the South Asian community which tends to generally be more centrist.”

That’s a view not everyone endorses among Indian-American Democrats. Rajiv Parikh, an attorney at Genova Burns LLC, and counsel to the New Jersey Democratic State Committee, was most impressed in the debates by Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Booker, with Warren coming a close third. Buttigieg and Booker, he felt, resonated and would be a “good and solid choice” for the South Asian-American community.

“Out of all the people who participated in the debates, there were two people very strong in terms of talking about what they would do as President – Pete Buttigieg and Cory Booker. … They talked about how to move the country forward, not so much about what Trump is doing,” Parikh told News India Times.

According to Parikh, Buttigieg “has a good perspective on how to make change. He came flat out against doing away with private insurance,” for instance,

“Also, his Buttigieg) stance on immigration reform is a smart one because it looks at doing things in a measured and controlled way; Also about automation and technology, he believes these should not make people afraid but be dealt with through training and is also tied to immigration.”

The Indian-American community Parikh contended is more sophisticated regarding elections, than what some people give it credit for. Especially when some contend that the community may go for ethnicity or race over the actual platform of a candidate.

“While there may be many on the West Coast who may do that,” indicating support for Harris, ” there’s a lot that support Biden, Warren and Buttigieg,” Parikh calculates. He also draws attention to the number of top tier staff recruited by “top tier” candidates like Biden, Harris, Booker, Buttigieg, Warren and Sanders. “This alone show the community is not together,” on the candidate they choose to support, he pointed out.





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