WASHINGTON — With his strong pro-India remarks at a recent rally, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump appears to have dented the Democratic party's traditionally-strong Indian American vote bank, some Republican party insiders say.
The first-of-its-kind address by a presidential candidate to a purely Indian American event might not have an immediate impact on the upcoming general elections which is just three weeks away, but in the long run it could be seen as a key marker for a number of Indian Americans swinging towards the Republicans, they said.
“I am a big fan of Hindu and I am a big fan of India. If elected, the Indian and Hindu community would have a true friend at the White House,” Trump said at the rally.
“Trump's remarks at Edison, N.J., to the Indian American community were very constructive and positive in India-U.S. relations,” said Sampat Shivangi, who has been a Republican delegate in the last four national conventions.
Shivangi said with Trump's appearance at the event attended by more than 5,000 Indian Americans, Republicans made a “strong case” for the party amongst Indian Americans and was “successful” this time.
“He has promised to be the best friend of India in the White House which is a welcome sign and a reminder to Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton to open up to India and Indian Americans to tackle the radical Islamic threat that has been rampant in last several years destroying the core fabric of democracy across the world,” Shivangi said.
“One major difference that I have come across this election cycle amongst Indian Americans who were supporting Clinton, is that they are changing their support silently in favor of Trump,” the Indian American told PTI.
Rohit Vyas, a popular news anchor and news director of TV Asia — one of the largest Indian American channels in the U.S. — agreed with Shivangi that Republicans have now gained ground among Indian Americans.
Vyas, who has been holding special election shows for the past several months and conducting weekly national telephone polls among Indian Americans, said that the community this time is equally split between Clinton and Trump.
“From the last two phone polls we have conducted it seems the Indian American community is equally divided between Clinton and Trump. From the Oct. 13, 2016, conversation with viewers it appeared the recent controversies affecting both Trump and Clinton didn't seem to matter,” Vyas said. “Most older generation viewers are concerned about which leader will be better for U.S.-India relations and for Indian Americans.”
Younger viewers overwhelmingly through informal polls said they were most concerned about which candidate would work to establish tuition-free college education, healthcare benefits and, above all, employment for fresh entrants into the American workforce, he added.
“While (Vermont Sen. Bernie) Sanders was in the race, he was the runaway favorite of young Indian voters. Now it seems they lean more toward Clinton. The older generation seems to be gravitating toward Trump, especially those who are in business,” Vyas said.
However, major fundraisers for the Clinton campaign disagreed.
Referring to findings of the fall 2016 National Asian American Survey released last week, Ajay Jain, a major fundraiser for the Clinton campaign, said that 70 percent of Indian American registered voters were Democrat supporters and are strongly behind Clinton, while only 7 percent support Trump.
“Hillary Clinton has built strong relations with India when she was the first lady and later as secretary of state. No incoming U.S. president has had the level of interaction with India that Hillary has had,” the California-based Jain said.
“Hillary has walked extra mile for India. As U.S. senator she was co-chair of the Senate India Caucus. And as U.S. secretary of state she made multiple visits, during which she highlighted the need for India to 'not just look east, but engage east and act east' — a mantra the Modi government subsequently adopted,” Jain asserted.
“Clinton has developed strong ties with India. I am sure she will take it forward as president, as President Obama has done and continue strong U.S.-India ties,” Jain said.