Samosa Caucus is the term used to describe the group of Indian-American lawmakers in Congress- Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Raja Krishnamoorthi and Ro Khanna in the House of Representatives and Kamala Harris in the Senate. All four Representatives are up for re-election in Tuesday’s midterm election after serving a two-year term, and with another dozen Indian-Americans on the ballot on November 6, there are hopes that the samosa brigade will be strengthened.
Easier said than done though. The US House of Representatives has a very high rate of incumbency re-election, an inertia that has led to the term “Congressional stagnation,” although the retirement of some 42 Congressmen this election cycle has led to openings for many aspirants. Even so, the rate of incumbency re-election in recent years has been over 90 per cent, with rarely more than ten sitting members losing their House seats every election cycle.
Sri Kulkarni would know how hard it is to break into Congress. A US Foreign Service officer who resigned from the administration to challenge five-term Republican Pete Olson in Texas’ 22nd Congressional district, his is one of the most watched races in the country because of the energy and verve he has brought to the campaign. Asian Americans make up 19.2 per cent of the population in this district southwest of Houston, and the polyglot Kulkarni’s outreach has involved reaching the diverse constituency in a dozen languages, including Hindi, Mandarin, Turkish, Nepalese, and Sinhala given that 40 per cent of the district speaks a language other than English.
Still he still faces a formidable task in ousting Olson, who is himself not shy of showcasing his global embrace, turning up in sherwanis and bandis to desi fundraising events and bragging about his close ties to Prime Minister Modi, and Houston’s energy connections to India. But such is the threat from Kulkarni to what was till recently considered a Republican pocketborough that Olson took the very red route of referring to his opponent as an ‘Indian-American carpetbagger,’ although Kulkarni traces his ancestry from his mother’s side to Sam Houston, the hero of the ‘Texas revolution.’ Although Olson is expected to retain his seat, Kulkarni’s energetic campaign could provide an upset if there is indeed a so-called Democratic ‘blue wave’ that has been spoken about but never seen or felt.
A similar challenge of breaking through the established Republican fortress faces Hiral Tipirneni and Anita Malik, two Indian-American women fighting to oust incumbents in Arizona. Tipirneni, a physician, is locked in what is a rematch of the race she lost in April this year to Republican Debbie Lesko in a by-election, and latest polls show her trailing by a mere four points, within the margin of error. Tipirneni has also raised more money than Lesko for the November race, and if indeed there is a blue wave, she could overcome the four point deficit come Tuesday.
The fact that Lesko sees Tipirneni as a threat became evident when her campaign began using “fake doctor” signs – simply because the Indian-American had not been a practicising physician for over a decade, necessitating an intervention from the Arizona Medical Political Action Committee that viewed the campaign signs against Dr. Tipirneni ‘as an insult to the medical profession, discounting the education and training required of physicians to become licensed and credentialed.’
While most other “desi” challengers are seen as also-rans, the four incumbent Indian-American lawmakers, all Democrats, are expected to retain their seats. California’s Dr Ami Bera is bidding for his fourth term from the state’s 7th district in and around Sacramento, having won three previous elections by relatively narrow margins. But he is expected to have an easier time this cycle against an opponent who is a marine.
Elsewhere in California 17th District, Ro Khanna, whose constituency encompasses most of Silicon Valley and includes stories companies such as Apple and Intel, looks set to win a second term, as does Pramila Jayapal in Washington State, whose 7th district is also considered a Democratic fortress.