Indian American voters have an integral role to play in shaping the outcome of the 2020 Democratic primaries and nominating a candidate who can defeat Donald Trump.
I believe that candidate is Pete Buttigieg – Mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Although any Democrat would be a vast improvement over Trump, Mayor Pete (as he is popularly known) is more articulate than Joe Biden, more business-friendly than Bernie Sanders, and more flexible on health care coverage options than Elizabeth Warren.
According to a 2018 report by APIA Vote and AAPI Data, only 28 percent of Indian American registered voters approve of Trump, and only 36 percent have a favorable view of the Republican Party. In 2017, a team of researchers led by Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan published a report suggesting that only 16 percent of Indian Americans voted for Trump in 2016. What these data suggest is that Indian Americans are gravitating toward Democrats.
The question for most Indian American voters is: Which Democrat to support in the primaries?
Being the mayor of a midwestern town, Buttigieg does not reside in an echo chamber like Democrats in the comfortably liberal bastions of California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, or Hawaii. More than his opponents, he recognizes that Middle America has been taken for granted by Democrats and that the key to regaining the White House is rebuilding trust with voters in crucial swing states, such as Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
Trump would be no match for Buttigieg on a debate stage and in the court of public opinion. Prior to becoming president, Trump was a game show host and tabloid celebrity. Buttigieg was a Rhodes Scholar. Trump avoided military service in Vietnam on questionable medical grounds. Buttigieg served in Afghanistan. Trump has a history of surrounding himself with criminals and ensnaring himself in scandals. Buttigieg exudes integrity and compassion and would bring morality back to the White House.
Indeed, what drew me to Buttigieg earlier this year was his observation that Evangelical Republicans who attack immigrants and exploit the downtrodden have forgotten the essential teachings of Christianity. Trump and his Republican enablers cannot overcome this critique.
So how can Indian Americans help Buttigieg cross the finish line in the Democratic primaries?
I believe the key is for Indian Americans to support Buttigieg as a voting bloc and for other Asian-American communities to do the same. While there is significant media attention paid to the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries in February, the vast majority of primary votes are cast after these early, high-profile contests. For example, 16 states are up for grabs on Super Tuesday (March 3, 2020), and according to U.S. Census Bureau data, several of these states are home to large Indian American populations: California (712,532); Texas (358,002); Virginia (131,199); Massachusetts (98,190); and North Carolina (85,074).
After Super Tuesday, a series of primaries will be held in March and April, and by the end of April, it is likely that a presumptive nominee will emerge. At this point, Indian American voters will have voted in other states where they have significant populations, including: New York (372,309); Illinois (231,720); Florida (153,968); Georgia (130,763); Pennsylvania (125,202); and Maryland (94,054).
Indian Americans pride themselves on being a successful immigrant community, but I believe our community can achieve even greater success by flexing our political muscle. If Indian Americans can achieve universal voter registration, aspire to a 100 percent voter participation rate, and gain a reputation for being the nation’s most effective political organizers, we have the power to send Pete Buttigieg to the White House and restore dignity to the Oval Office.
(Rajdeep Singh Jolly is a lawyer and political consultant in Washington, DC.)