Two women waiting in the wings for the Oval Office


NEW YORK – Is it going to be Kamala Harris vs Nikki Haley in 2020, for the Oval Office? This week has sent the strongest signal yet that the once improbable and implausible clash of two Indian American women for the highest office in the land could indeed turn out to be startling reality.

The more probable contender, the Democrat Sen. Kamala Harris, from California, who has slowly been shaping up and strategizing for a summit fight, made the first provocative and appealing move by a top Democrat in a long time. Her proposed tax break for the middle class could be an important electoral platform, going into the nomination process, and later, to take head-on the Republican opponent.

Harris proposed, this week, a new tax credit of up to $6,000 a year, for families earning less than $100,000 a year. It would be $3,000 a year for single filers earning under $50,000. What makes it really appealing for middle class voters, those who live on paycheck-to-paycheck, is that this amount of $6,000 could be accessed either at the end of the year, or in monthly installments of up to $500 a month.

Harris explained that according to a survey done by her office a majority of Americans don’t have enough cash to cover unexpected expenses every month, including rent increase or health care.

Harris is also set to make her debut in the bellwether state of Iowa next week – a must-stop pilgrimage for every presidential aspirant – with speaking engagements in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. Fox News reported that Harris last visited the state in 2008 as San Francisco’s district attorney to campaign for then-Sen. Barack Obama. Mercury News reported that last time Harris was in Iowa she trudged through snow to knock on voters’ doors and delivered boxes of pizza to caucus-goers.

Harris has been busy on the campaign trail for the Democrats, though, having helped to raise more than $5 million for party candidates. Harris stumped for Democrats in South Carolina this week, and visited Ohio and Arizona earlier this month. She is headed to Wisconsin this weekend, and plans to hit Georgia and Florida as well, reports said. She’ll spend the weekend before Election Day, back in California.

A CNN poll released this week put Harris in third place among possible Democratic White House contenders, after former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Democrats have struggled to come up with a strong economic message to inspire voters, get them piqued, apart from partisan issues, even as the Republicans continue to hammer home nationalistic topics of shutting out immigrants, and creating jobs for only Americans.

With a strong economy, and record unemployment numbers, Americans would be wary to change an incumbent like President Trump, who despite his shortcomings in diplomatic niceties and rhetoric, has ushered in a slew of good news for America from the time he took office.

Harris’ message on the $6,000 tax break would be very welcome for voters who have been skeptical of Trump’s tax breaks; as to how much it really benefits them, or not; if it’s true target is only the wealthy class. With Obamacare getting dented in many states, disgruntlement growing, health care costs have started to spiral, and would lead to more appraisal of Harris by independent voters.

“Americans are working harder than ever but stagnant wages mean they can’t keep up with cost of living increases,” Harris said in a statement. “We should put money back into the pockets of American families to address rising costs of childcare, housing, tuition, and other expenses. Our tax code should reflect our values and instead of more tax breaks for the top 1 percent and corporations, we should be lifting up millions of American families.”

As Harris makes a strong case for herself, Haley has been on an almost surreptitious campaign of her own, to make herself a likeable and formidable presidential candidate for the GOP.

Shorn of her baggage as an insider in the Trump Administration, following her resignation as Ambassador to the United Nations, Haley is on a calculated nationwide speaking tour it seems, to firmly place her in the limelight of wealthy and influential donors, and the who’s who of society.

Haley spoke at two high profile events recently, including the Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner in New York on October 18, where Trump had spoken two years ago.

Haley, also, days before she quit, was the main speaker at the Council for National Policy — which the New York Times has called a “little-known club of a few hundred of the most powerful conservatives in the country”. She did an impromptu interactive session with the audience there, taking on plenty of questions with relish.

Haley’s monologue at the Al Smith dinner, last night, replete with self-deprecating humor, as well as targeting Trump, is special. A scripted recording of it by CNN on YouTube had more than 90,000 views and counting.

Haley made several jokes about her Indian heritage, drew loud laughter at the charity event in New York which took in $4 million for Catholic Church causes.

Haley, the former Governor of South Carolina, who was born to Sikh parents, and converted to Christianity in her 20s, told the crowd organizers had “wanted an Indian woman, but Elizabeth Warren failed her DNA test.”

She added: “Actually, when the president found out that I was Indian American, he asked me if I was from the same tribe as Elizabeth Warren.”

Haley also made a point of telling the audience that she was born to immigrant parents, to “legal immigrant parents from India”, before adding for emphasis, to make the point of declining immigration numbers, “legal immigrants, are there anymore left”?

She also said: “People always wonder if I felt different or isolated as an Indian American growing up in rural South Carolina. Actually, there was a benefit. It totally prepared me for being a Republican in New York.”

And then taking a dig at New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was in the audience, and the infamous Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): “I do have diplomatic immunity … an exemption from prosecution, or as Mayor de Blasio calls it, a sanctuary city! Oh look, I got the mayor a drink up on stage — no ice!”

But as several liberal media outlets pointed out, Haley really made a mark of rare political unity when she made the point that her political rivals, the Democrats, are not “evil”, as opposed to Trump, who has used the term to describe the opposition.

“In our toxic political life, I’ve heard some people in both parties describe their opponents as enemies or evil,” Haley said, adding, “In America, our political opponents are not evil.”

It’s likely Haley may make her move to join the 2020 race if the Republicans and Trump face a humiliating defeat in next month’s polls, and lose control of the House, and even the Senate.

Maybe, America is heading to more conciliatory tone in politics after all, especially if Haley and Harris face-off.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him:  Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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