WASHINGTON, D.C. — For the first time in the history of the Indian- American political experience, two Indian Americans — both women — will run against each other in the same Arizona Congressional district for the Democratic nomination to go up against the entrenched Republican incumbent in 2020.
Anita Malik, who lost to the five-term GOP incumbent in the state’s District 6, Rep. David Schweikert in 2018, on April 17, announced her decision to challenge him again in 2020. But she will first have to fend off Dr. Hiral Tipirneni in the Democratic primary. Tipirneni, who ran in District 8 in 2018 and lost to her Republican opponent Debbie Leshko, on March 29, filed her paperwork with the Federal Election Commission, lending credence to rumors that had been circulating for some time that she would run in District 6 buoyed by her supporters and the Democratic establishment in the state and nationally, who believed she could mount a stronger challenge to the vulnerable Schweikert and flip the district from red to blue.
During the mid-terms in 2018, Tipirneni and Malik were veritable sisters-in-arms, rooting for one another, but it was Tipirneni who made a splash, raising considerable funds and aggressively campaigning for the open seat —vacated by eight-term Republican incumbent Trent Franks, who quit in mid-2017 in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations — and lost to the Republican candidate and now U.S. Rep. Leshko by only 5 percentage points in the first special election, and then in the much higher turnout general election on Nov. 6 by 11 percentage points in the GOP-leaning district that Donald Trump had won by over 21 points.
Malik, a former technology executive and now a self-employed entrepreneur, who announced her second coming to unseat Schweikert — who is currently under a House ethics investigation for campaign finance violations — in a video message to her supporters, said, “In 2018, we redefined what was possible in this district by organizing our neighbors around a vision for change, where healthcare is affordable and every family experiences economic growth.
“Now, we’re ready to continue that fight in 2020,” she said, asserting that “I never stopped fighting for my neighbors in CD 6. This is where I grew up, this is where I am raising my family. I am not backing down from this fight.”
In her message, Malik said, “In 2018, we raised our voices for change — we united. We stood up to say ‘no’ to tax policy that puts corporations ahead of families. We pushed for renewable energies and compassionate immigration policies, we protected pre-existing conditions and we fought to protect our families and our community from senseless gun violence.
“And, we stood up to say, there is corruption in our own district —in our own representation,” she added.
Malik said, “From the first step, we were told not to bother, change here in District 6, we were told it was impossible, but we changed the story. We closed the gap and the grassroots movement here in District 6 isn’t over yet.”
She argued that “we still need a representative that will put labels aside to unite the community, leadership that will build aggressive prosperity and a family-first economy. These are my promises.
She declared, “It’s time to stand up with courage, together again, to rewrite the ending and finish what we started.”
Aruna Miller, executive director of the Indian American Impact Fund, that strongly endorsed both Malik and Tipirneni in 2018, told India Abroad that “it’s great that two Indian-Americans are running, even if it’s against each other.
“I would say, given the fact that we had no Indian-Americans running in the past, this is a good sign,” she said, and predicted, “I believe we will continue to see situations like this because Indian-Americans are here — they are out of the gate and they are going to be running to represent the voices of their community and Americans, and this is a beautiful thing.”
Miller however argued that “in any primary, in any general election, the voters will get to decide of the totality of candidates that are running and not just the identity alone, but to take a look at their history, their leadership, their visibility and what they are going to do for all Americans.
“So, this is an exciting time,” she reiterated, “and it’s a new paradigm for Indian-Americans, and we are going to see more situations like this.”
In an interview with India Abroad earlier this month, Tipirneni, a cancer research advocate turned politician, said, “What I decided is that I’m still able to fight for these issues for Arizona and figuring out the best way to do it, and there was a lot of support locally, in the district, in the country, in the state and nationally, encouraging me to run in the 6th because we essentially ran twice in the 8th.
“We made huge progress and even in November, we had the biggest shift — we moved the needle 10 points and we outperformed Hillary (Clinton, the Democratic nominee in 2016), and we even outperformed (Democrat) Kyrsten Sinema who was elected to the (U.S.) Senate,” she said, and added, “So, I was encouraged by many folks to consider it (run in the 6th District).”
Tipirneni also acknowledged that her decision to run in the 6th District was also “realistic and pragmatic” because she had gone up against Leshko twice in the 8th District “and Leshko is continuing to consolidate her incumbency,” and trying to dislodge her could be much tougher than the vulnerable and weakened Schweikert with all of his ethics challenges.
“Look, I ran against her twice and I turned over every stone I feel I could turn over and remember, this is a district that went to President Trump by 21 points in 2016, but we had the biggest shift in November 2016.”
She said, “I may be an idealist in some ways, but I am also a pragmatist, and so, I thought there’s an assessment of where I can make the greatest impact…So I know there’s room to grow there (in the 6th District), I know we can continue to grow our coalition—we can build our coalition of independents, of moderate Republicans and we can get to that place to finally doing the work for Arizonans. So, I am excited about continuing the fight.
“The only way we made the progress we made was because we were able to bring Independents and moderate Republicans to our point of view,” she said.
“So, I am excited about having a chance to continue that work. Look at the progress that Arizona made—we sent a Democratic woman to the Senate, and I know our district had a strong hand in that. And, so, I’m excited about continuing to build on that because our work is not done.”