Hours after losing his primary bid to run against former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan for Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district seat, Amardeep Kaleka announced he would run again in 2016.
Kaleka announced his candidacy for Congress first with India-West last year. Keeping the tradition, the Indian American candidate told this newspaper he planned to best Ryan in 2016, with his newly-gained knowledge of the political process.
The Democrat ran against fellow Democrat Rob Zerban, who had lost to Ryan in 2012. With 100 percent of ballots counted, Kaleka captured more than 22 percent of the votes – 7313 – while Zerban won with 78 percent.
Kaleka said he constantly had to defend the fact that he has lived in District 1 for most of his life. His opponents attempted to portray him as an outsider from California. Zerban refused to debate him, allegedly saying he was not a “true candidate.”
On the Republican side, Paul Ryan – Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential elections – easily bested Jeremy Ryan, also known as “Segway Boy” for his habit of showing up to events on the innovative electric scooter. He received 94 percent of the vote.
Speaking with India-West the day after the primary, Kaleka said he was optimistic he could win if he came up against Ryan. “We have something Paul does not have: we have the heart of the people,” he said, noting that during his campaign he went into inner-city neighborhoods to talk to residents there about their challenges.
“Paul can’t do that. Zerban can’t do that,” stated the film-maker, who is the son of Satwant Singh Kaleka.
Satwant Kaleka was killed on Aug. 5, 2012, when neo-Nazi terrorist Wade Michael Page stormed through the Oak Creek, Wisc., gurdwara during Sunday morning prayers, killing six people and seriously injuring three others before taking his own life. Satwant Kaleka died heroically, attempting to intervene with the gunman who was headed towards the kitchen, where women were preparing the afternoon meal.
The tragic incident was the catalyst for the younger Kaleka’s decision to run for Congress. Surprisingly, in an initial interview with India-West, Kaleka was nebulous about his support for gun control, but now embraces 100 percent background checks for all gun sales, harsher penalties for gun traffickers and mandatory accidental discharge insurance for all types of guns.
“Walking around the inner city has totally changed my thoughts on gun control,” he explained.
Amardeep Kaleka brought some novel ideas to his campaign: he made a “mixtape,” harkening back to an earlier decade when the art-form was used as a tool to capture the heart of a potential lover. He distributed the mixtape – which also contained sound-bites of his political platform - through Facebook and other social media, urging supporters to play it in their cars with the windows rolled down, thereby spreading his message throughout the district.
Kaleka used “crowd-funding” to generate his first set of donations and quickly amassed about $15,000 in eight days, via 119 donors. The candidate began fundraising in January and raised about $148,000, according to his last FEC report. Zerban – who began fundraising a year earlier – has amassed $530,000 for his November race against Ryan, who has raised about $7.7 million.
On his Facebook page Aug. 13, Kaleka posted a conversation he had with his son Sabu, who asked if he had won. His father replied he had not, but added: “We helped form a new movement against career politicians. And we spoke up about the issues that matter most: your safety and the inequality of wealth.”
“In the end, we came out clean, we got pushed down in unethical ways from both parties, and we still continued to get up off the ground and run,” Kaleka told his son.