Indian-American supporters elated over Kamala Harris' decision to run

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on oversight of U.S. Customs and Border Protection on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 11, 2018. (The New York Times)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The worst kept political secret since early last year was out in the open on Jan. 21 —Martin Luther King Jr. Day — when to no one’s surprise, Kamala Devi Harris — the first ever Indian-American U.S. Senator — formally declared her intent to seek the presidency in 2020, and the consequent elation by her closest Indian-American friends and supporters, longtime fund-raisers, and progressive activists in the community was palpable.

Silicon Valley entrepreneur and women’s activist Shelly Kapoor Collins, founding partner of The Shatter Fund, has been a close friend and supporter of Harris from the time she ran for District Attorney over 15 years ago. “I am over the moon by my longtime friend Senator Kamala Harris’ announcement that she is running for president of the United States,” Kapoor Collins told India Abroad.

“When I spoke to her, I thanked her in advance for the sacrifice she and her family would be making by running for president, especially at this pivotal time in our country when she is exactly the kind of person we need to run — someone who is a public servant to serve all people,” Collins said. She added that she was asked to join Harris’ National Finance Committee as a founding member “on day one of her campaign.”

Collins argued that “the economy is a women’s issue, and no one understands this better, or champions this more, than Kamala.” She recalled: “When I started my fund The Shatter Fund to invest in technology companies started by female entrepreneurs, Kamala was one of the first people to support me and my efforts to help women obtain equal access to capital to start and scale businesses.

“She understood immediately why it's so critical to advance women's equality, not just because it's the right thing to do, but because there are positive economic consequences for the US and the global economy,” Collins said.

She continued, “Kamala is not scared to do the right thing and she doesn’t back away when things get tough. When Kamala ran for District Attorney she ran against an incumbent opponent whose nickname was ‘K.O.’ for knockout. We all know what happened and Kamala’s meteoric rise after she knocked out that race.” Collins, who was on Harris’ Transition Team when she was elected Attorney General of California, reiterated that “Kamala has been an inspiration and role model for me personally and now the rest of the country, especially women, will see what a tremendous force and fighter she is for those she serves.

“Kamala is California’s Senator for all Californians and she will be President for all Americans. I couldn’t be more proud to have been a small part of her path from District Attorney to Attorney General to Senator, and now candidate for President of the United States,” she added.

Indian-American supporters elated over Kamala Harris' decision to run

Indiaspora founder and president M.R. Rangaswami with Sen. Kamala Devi Harris.

Former Kansas legislator Raj Goyle and Deepak Raj — an entrepreneur, philanthropist and chairman of Pratham USA — co-founders of the Indian American Impact Fund, which supports and funds Indian-American candidates in a statement provided to India Abroad, said: “The Indian American Impact Fund is thrilled by Senator Harris' groundbreaking announcement today.” They said, “As the first viable Indian-American candidate for president of the United States, she is a trailblazer for our community and a champion for our values.

“We applaud her decision and look forward to supporting her enthusiastically in the days and months ahead,” Goyle and Raj said.

Harris last year, in an all-in embrace of the Indian-American community and her Indian identity, keynoted two conferences organized by the Impact Fund, including a Women Who Impact forum and also was the headliner at two events organized by Pratham in the Bay area in California and also a Pratham Tri-state event held in New York.

Priya Dayananda, managing director, Federal Government Affairs at KPMG LLP, and one of D.C.’s top lobbyists, who’s a member of the Impact Fund board, said: “Kamala Harris is an excellent choice. Our community should help her in every way possible.” 

Longtime Democratic Party stalwart and fund-raiser Shekar Narasimhan, the founding chairman of the AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Victory Fund, also hailing Harris’ jumping into the fray and seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said, the Victory Fund would not be making any endorsements “at this stage.”

“Our board will wait till we know all the candidates first,” he said. “However, we are beginning planning on a serious investment in turning out the AAPI vote during the Democratic primaries in 2020.”

Narasimhan said Harris’ decision to run had elicited “We have arrived” reactions “from the next-generation.” But “in the first generation, they are still asking ‘is she is really Indian?’ even though she cannot be just that!” he said.

 “I would say she has a chance of winning the Democratic nomination and therefore should be taken seriously,” he predicted. “So, she will get Indian-American support — we do like winners,” he said. “Plus, she will be the one credible Asian American Pacific Islander in the race, so if I was her I would stress my immigrant roots and make a serious attempt to attract the significant AAPI vote in Nevada, Virginia, North Carolina and California — all early 2020 primary States,” he said. “In a crowded primary, we could be the margin of difference.”

Silicon Valley entrepreneur, angel investor and philanthropist M.R. Rangaswami, the founder and president of Indiaspora, recalled that when he founded the organization in 2012, the Indian-American community had humbler aspirations. “We were 1 percent of the U.S. population but did not have any congressional representation, so we wanted to be 1 percent of the U.S. Congress.”

He continued: “It took the community three election cycles to attain that goal. (But) I never thought in my wildest dreams that we would have an Indian-American running for President of the United States, but this is now a reality!”

Rangaswami spoke of how Harris attended the 2013 Indiaspora Ball in Washington, D.C., in honor of President Obama's re-election, as did (U.S. Congresswoman) Tulsi Gabbard (who has also declared her candidacy to challenge President Trump in 2020). “Now they are both running for the highest political office in the land and are attracting the attention of Indian- Americans,” he said. But, he argued: “We are by no means a monolithic community. It is still early in the 2020 presidential election cycle and there are other candidates who will certainly approach Indian-Americans for support.” Rangaswami said “candidates will need to share their ideas on issues that impact our community, such as immigration, education and strong relations with India.”

Harris was scheduled to make her first official stop as a candidate in South Carolina on Jan.25 — before heading to her hometown of Oakland, California, where she was born and raised, to deliver a formal announcement speech on Jan. 27. The next day, she was slated to be the featured guest at a town hall meeting in Iowa hosted by Jake Tapper of CNN’s the daily “The Lead” and the weekend “State of the Union.”

Chris Cillizza, CNN’s political reporter and commentator and editor-at-large, in his column “The Point” said: “The South Carolina electorate seems ready-made for Harris as, historically, African-American voters cast more than half of all votes in Democratic presidential primaries in the state.”

He noted: “Then-Sen. Barack Obama scored a crushing victory over Hillary Clinton in South Carolina in 2008, a win that gave his candidacy a jolt of momentum heading into a series of caucuses in February 2008 that gave him a delegate lead he never relinquished.”

Cillizza argued that “Obama's path is instructive to Harris — and not just because of their race. Obama won the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, which allowed him to weather a surprising defeat in the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8 and make it with some momentum left to the South Carolina primary on Jan. 26. “The question for Harris is whether she can replicate Obama's success in Iowa or, if not, whether she can show well in New Hampshire. Given the size of the expected field —18 to 24 candidates — winning may be less important to Harris than simply overperforming expectations with a top-three showing,” he said.

“If she can do that, she will be very well-positioned to win in South Carolina and, with that victory under her belt, will be a force going into the bigger population states that vote in March — none bigger than California, which is set to vote on March 3 and where Harris would be an overwhelming favorite,” he added.

But he acknowledged that “if she can't win in Iowa or New Hampshire — and if Nevada's caucuses, where she should do well because of her California roots, take a back seat to the other three early-state votes as they have in the past few cycles — the question becomes whether the race moves past her before Feb. 29 in South Carolina.”

“Harris has all the tools to be the last Democrat standing next year,” he wrote. “But the map doesn’t have an obvious win for her until Feb. 29 — making a strong showing in Iowa or New Hampshire a near-must.”

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