Indian American supporters pin hopes on Kamala Harris emerging as vice presidential candidate

Sen. Kamala Harris (D- Calif.) speaks at presidential primary campaign event in Las Vegas, Nov. 8, 2019. (The New York Times)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The disappointment and sadness over the exit of Sen. Kamala Devi Harris from the presidential hustings, ran deep and was clearly palpable among Indian American Democratic Party stalwarts, activists and fundraisers, including many who were all-in for Harris.

But the consensus, in interviews with India Abroad, was an overriding optimism that Harris, far from riding into the sunset, would emerge as an irresistible running mate to whoever wins the Democratic presidential nomination, particularly if she goes after Trump with her prosecutorial skills during his impeachment trial in the Senate, mostly likely early next year.

Subodh Chandra, former law director of Cleveland, Ohio, a longtime friend and fundraiser for Harris, said, “Kamala Harris is a giant in the U.S. Senate, and while I am disappointed that her candidacy ended — and remain convinced that she would have been most effective in debates at holding Trump accountable for his behavior — I have no doubt that she will remain a growing force for good in the Senate.”

He predicted, “In the upcoming Trump impeachment trial alone, her prosecutorial skills will make her an effective and forceful deliberator as she cuts through the Republicans’ unpatriotic, treasonous, Russia-aiding-and-abetting nonsense.”

Chandra said, “I’m sure Republicans are as scared of that as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was of being asked questions by her,” and quipped, “She makes grown right-wing men want to soil themselves in fear.”

He also rejoiced over what he described as “Senator Harris’s ‘thappard’ back at Trump in response to his sarcastic tweet about her departure from the race is a harbinger of what he is about to face from her in his Senate trial,” and added, “I’m proud of Kamala Didi and continue to have great expectations about her future.”

President Trump, in a clearly facetious tweet, immediately after Harris announced her decision to withdraw from the race, said, “Too bad. We will miss you Kamala,” to which Harris, shot back, “Don’t worry, Mr. President. I’ll see you at your trial.”

Shekar Narasimhan, founder and co-chair of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Victory)Victory Fund — the only Asian American Super PAC (Political Action Fund) and a longtime Democratic Party activist and fundraiser, said that he was not only saddened and disappointed over Harris’s departure from the field, but that “I am really worried that with that and all the stuff as to who’s on the (debate) stage on Dec. 19, we could end up with an all-white stage. That would really be bad.

“Looking at what we started with and who the party represents that would be a pretty disappointing outcome,” he added.

Asked if he believed that there was more than a tinge of racism and misogyny that may have driven Harris to quit, Narasimhan pointed to “all the negative stories that started to come out. You could write these negative stories about any of these campaigns, but why write these negative stories only about her.”

“Why were these flurry of stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker magazine? Don’t tell me the other campaigns aren’t having dissent and people leaving and coming. So, I believe, being a woman of color is a big barrier and the standard that she was held to was higher than the standard that most of the other candidates were held to. There was a degree of unfairness as well.”

Narasimhan reiterated that “there was clearly a standard that she was held to because of her gender and biracial nature that was higher than the other candidates. And, it was unfortunate that as a consequence, plus her own missteps, when she could have taken the high road and stayed very focused and on message that she was going to win South Carolina, Nevada and California and then win the country,” her campaign started unraveling.

Thus, he said, “The combination of that standard of gender bias and racial bias and her own missteps, we are where we are that she spent $30 million and didn’t make it.”

But Narasimhan argued that she nevertheless “set a marker, and so, looking on the positive side, she is still going to be on the national stage. We are going to need her, particularly as early as January (during the Trump impeachment trial) in the Senate.”

He said, “If she can shine during this impeachment trial, and they are looking around when they get the nomination, whoever does, who do I pick (as a vice presidential candidate), who can bring consistency, who has that gravitas, she’s going to be very high on that list and we got to encourage that to be in that debate and in the conversation.”

Shelly Kapoor Collins, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a venture capitalist, and longtime friend and confidante of Harris and a major fund-raiser for her since the days Harris ran for District Attorney of San Francisco, acknowledged that she was crushed that Harris had decided to throw in the towel, citing among other things that her campaign had run out of money.

“Of course, I am, sad and disappointed,” she said. “Kamala has been a longtime friend and I’ve been a longtime supporter and I felt that she was one of our top-tier, if not our top-tier candidate in the race. So, to see her go, I was just blown away.”

Asked if it was a failing of the Indian American community and her support base that she had run out of funds to continue a viable campaign, Collins said she didn’t believe this was a factor but just that “it’s a matter of there are too many candidates in the field. And, when there is that many Democratic candidates in the race, you are going to split up the donor base and there is only one donor base — those people who can legitimately give a good amount of money.”

Collins also agreed that as Harris as said, she was not a billionaire who could self-fund her campaign, and pointed out that “my understanding is that (former New York Mayor and billionaire) Mike Bloomberg has spent in two weeks what Kamala spent from the time she got into the campaign, which is the last nine months.

“So, these are some heavy numbers to compete against. It’s like a small VC (venture capital) fund competing against SoftBank — it doesn’t work,” she added.

Collins also said that Harris was not the type of candidate to engage in identity politics to work to her advantage vis-à-vis playing up her biracial roots as some had suggested to pander to certain constituencies. “That’s not what Kamala is about at all and I think that anytime we get into identity politics, it gets very slippery.”

But asked if she believed there was any inherent racism or gender bias, particularly as Harris was a woman of color, she said she didn’t think so, but acknowledged that “in my opinion and in my work, the standard is different for women of any color.”

She said, “I invest in women because women don’t have the same access to capital that men do. And, I think the same applies to political female candidates. They don’t have access to the same kind of ability to raise money that men do.”

But Collins said Harris “is going to have a major role in American politics for years to come. Whether it’s at the state or national level that remains to be seen but Kamala is going to be a player for a very long time and that’s not going to change.”

Two other longtime Democratic Party activists and fundraisers — Dr. R.D. Prabhu of Las Vegas, and Ramesh Kapur of Boston, who hosted major fundraising events for Harris, also agreed and believed that whoever is the Democratic nominee, would be hard-pressed to ignore Harris as a vice presidential candidate.

Prabhu said, “I still strongly believe that she’s a force to reckon with and I think she’s is going to be the vice presidential candidate no matter who becomes the presidential nominee — be it (former Vice President to President Obama, Joseph) Biden or somebody else. They are going to have her on the ticket.

“Not only is she a formidable player, she is a person of color and can help to bring minorities with her — and we need some diversity.”

Prabhu also was in sync with the contention of the others that her presence during Trump’s impeachment trial would be a plus, and predicted that “she will scare Trump’s team and Republican defenders, because she alone is equal to 3-4 prosecutors.

“So, she has a bright future. She’s only 55 years old. And, also the support and the base she has cultivated is always going to remain and whoever chooses her as their running mate, they are going to rise in the polls,” he added.

Kapur, who has been a fundraiser for the Democratic fundraiser since the early 1980’s, also expressed confidence that Harris would now be a strong choice for vice president, particularly if Biden gets the nomination, and vowed to push Biden to consider her.

He said, “When Kamala ran, she had the potential to be president, and she made us proud that as an Indian American, our community has arrived.

“But if not president, she would be a great vice presidential candidate and I have good relations with Biden and John Kerry (former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential nominee in 2004) just endorsed him and I have supported Kerry from the time he ran for the Senate.”

He too did not believe that the Indian American community had failed Harris in terms of funding, and contended that it was just the opposite. “We raised more money for Kamala in the Indian American community than Tulsi (Gabbard) raised in the Indian American community.

Kapur acknowledged that in the first few months, Gabbard, propelled by the fact that she was Hindu American, and proudly wore it on her sleeve, had raised more money in the community than Harris did. “But we caught up to her and then we raised more money (for Harris).

“But there is only so much money that any community can raise,” he argued.

“There’s a limit and considering that we are a small community, we still give the most of any Asian American community. So, we gave enough to Tulsi, we gave enough for Kamala.”

Kapur said initially as a colored woman of mixed African American and Indian heritage, Harris initially “somehow didn’t connect” with either community. “Blacks didn’t consider her as 100 percent black and Indians didn’t consider her as 100 percent Indian. And, she was caught in the middle and Biden already had the support of the older black community.”

But, he reiterated, “This is good. We have moved the ball and vice president, I’ll take that any day, and with Biden’s age, you don’t know if he will be there for eight years, and she (Harris) can run (in 2024) and she will have enough experience.”

M.R. Rangaswami, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and angel investor and the founder and chairman of Indiaspora, while also acknowledging that “of course, we are disappointed that she withdrew — and there’s no hiding that — speculated in a take-off from Kapur’s scenario, “Can you imagine in 2004, the Democratic presidential candidate is Kamala Harris and the Republican candidate is Nikki Haley. What do you think?”

He said, “It’s not beyond the realm of possibility and a few years ago, even thinking about such a scenario would have been a fantasy. So, I take the positive side of things and say, ‘Hey, in four years, who knows.’”

Earlier, Rangaswami, taking what he said was a “different perspective,” with regard to Harris’s decision to quit the race, said, “How many times does someone who’s Indian American have a chance to run for the president of the United States. And, so, I believe the community is proud that she ran, and can you imagine that when she did, we had a chance of having an Indian American as president.

“I mean that’s unimaginable, and so, the fact that she ran, the fact that she was able to reach millions of people and tell her story, is something we are proud of in terms of what she accomplished,” he said, and added, “Even the thought of running for president is such a defining moment for us — for such a relatively young Indian American immigrant community.”

He reiterated that hence, “I take a different tack in that it’s easy to say when someone withdraws or loses, all of the reasons as to why. But that’s not constructive at all. What we need to do is to take stock and say, ‘What went right and what went wrong.”

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