Indian American Rina Shah of Reston, Virginia, has voted Republican since the age of 18, but she will vote for the Democratic Joe Biden-Kamala Harris ticket on election day Nov. 3.
Biden picked Harris, who has both Indian American and Jamaican roots, as his running mate Aug. 12. The move garnered a groundswell of support from Indian American Democrats. But Indian American Republicans delivered a mixed response.
Shah is a former Republican operative. But two weeks ago, she founded the group Republican Women for Biden, which will formally launch later this month. She also joined the women’s coalition of the Lincoln Project, an influential political action committee made up of current or former Republicans who are aiming to get President Donald Trump out of office. Its members include George Conway, husband of Trump’s long-time adviser KellyAnne Conway. The Lincoln Project endorsed Biden in April, and has run a series of anti-Trump ads.
“Republican women will pull the lever for Biden-Harris,” Shah told India-West, noting the president’s reported record of misogyny.
“He has no regard for the rule of law. He operates as if he were king. There is no concern for separation of power. He is breaking down our institutions Mafioso style,” said Shah, who did not vote for Trump in 2016, choosing Independent candidate Evan McMullin instead.
“This is a shame to me. I would like to see a healthy two-party system. But this moment is an aberration. We have to get rid of the cancer that is Trump,” she said.
“I didn’t leave my party. My party left me,” said Shah, noting she may still vote Republican in the down-ballot races, but will have to consider the candidate’s affiliation with Trump.
A Gallup survey which tracked party affiliation since 2004 shows that the number of voters identifying as Republicans has diminished since 2016. More than 40 percent of Americans surveyed this year identify as Independents, making up the largest voting bloc. (https://news.gallup.com/poll/15370/party-affiliation.aspx)
Indian American attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who serves as the committeewoman from California for the Republican National Committee, told India-West that the addition of Harris was not going to make much of a difference to the outcome of the race. She characterized Harris as an extremist who would not appeal to voters in key purple swing states.
“The question is, does she share their values? The answer is going to be no,” said Dhillon, who also serves as the national co-chair of Lawyers for Trump, and Women for Trump.
On a Fox News segment earlier in the week, Dhillon recalled her fight against Harris when the now junior senator from California served as attorney general for the state. In a protracted seven-year legal battle, Dhillon represented Trilochan Singh Oberoi, a former Indian military officer who was denied employment as a prison guard in California because he refused to shave off his religiously mandated beard. Former California Attorney General Jerry Brown largely ignored the case during his tenure. Harris settled the case 10 months after she took office.
“Her legacy as a prosecutor is a terrible one,” Dhillon stated on Fox News.
Indian American physician Sampat Shivangi, founder of the Indian American Forum for Political Education and a prominent Republican, had during the primaries thrown his support behind long-shot candidate Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. He told India-West in April of 2019 that he had been asked to join Trump’s re-election campaign, but declined.
Shivangi, who was re-elected as a Republican delegate from Mississippi for the fifth time earlier this year, told India-West Aug. 13 that he would have to vote for Trump as a delegate. “Of course I could differ, but I won’t do it,” he said.
In lieu of a convention, delegates will vote Aug. 24 via Zoom.
Harris is unlikely to be able to significantly court Indian American voters, said Shivangi, noting that the candidate has only recently embraced her Indian American roots. Moreover, she has been critical of India’s revocation of Article 370 last fall, which stripped special autonomous powers from Jammu and Kashmir, and of the new Citizenship Amendment Act, which grants citizenship to India’s undocumented migrants, but excludes Muslims.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong relationship with Trump will ensure the U.S. president the Indian vote, said Shivangi, noting that the president attended the “Howdy Modi” rally in Texas last August and made a brief visit to India earlier this year, briefly sojourning in Modi’s home state, Gujarat.
Biden is unlikely to be able to develop the kind of kinship President Barack Obama had with Modi, said Shivangi.
Katrina Pierson, Trump 2020 senior advisor, released a statement shortly after Biden made his announcement.
“Not long ago, Kamala Harris called Joe Biden a racist and asked for an apology she never received. Clearly, phony Kamala will abandon her own morals, as well as try to bury her record as a prosecutor, in order to appease the anti-police extremists controlling the Democratic Party,” said Pierson in the statement.
“In her failed attempt at running for president, Kamala Harris gleefully embraced the left’s radical manifesto, calling for trillions of dollars in new taxes and backing Bernie Sanders’ government takeover of healthcare. She is proof that Joe Biden is an empty shell being filled with the extreme agenda of the radicals on the left,” she said.