NEW YORK – The race for the U.S. presidency in next year's election is likely to see a Hindu representative and a senator of part Indian American descent vying for the Democratic Party's nomination.
Tulsi Gabbard, 37, the first Hindu elected to the U.S. Congress, announced Jan. 11 that she will be running for president.
Kamala Harris, 54, who is of Indian and African-Jamaican descent and is identified as a member of the Christian Baptist sect, is expected to announce her candidature for the Democratic Party nomination next week, according to several news reports quoting sources close to her.
Adding to the mix, there is speculation that Nikki Haley, who quit as U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN at the end of last year, may seek the Republican Party nomination in the event that President Donald Trump is not up for re-election next year.
The former South Carolina governor was the first Indian American to be a member of the U.S. cabinet and has received some Republican Party grassroots support for a 2024 run.
Gabbard is not of Indian descent but comes from a Hindu family in Hawaii and took her oath office on the Bhagavad Gita when she was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2011 and after her three re-elections.
An independent-minded Democrat who has defied party leadership, Gabbard said in an interview on CNN: "I have decided to run and will be making a formal announcement within the next week."
A combat veteran who has served in Iraq, Gabbard said of her reason for running for president: "There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace."
"There are a lot of reasons for me to make this decision. There are a lot of challenges that are facing the American people that I'm concerned about and that I want to help solve," she said, listing health care access, criminal justice reform and climate change as key platform issues.
Rania Batrice, who was a deputy campaign manager for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and is now a top aide to Gabbard, will be the campaign manager.
Gabbard continues to be a member of the Army National Guard with the rank of major and while serving in Congress has been mobilized for emergency duties.
Despite – or because of – her military background, she has opposed U.S. involvement in Syria and faced criticism for visiting that country and meeting President Bashar al-Assad.
Gabbard has been a strong supporter of India and closer U.S.-India ties as well as of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
She has advocated cutting U.S. aid to Pakistan and pressuring it to end its support international terrorism.
Soon after Trump was elected in 2016, Gabbard met him amid rumors that she may be offered a job in his administration.
But this year she harshly criticized Trump for not taking a strong stand against Saudi Arabia for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
She is on the populist left in the Democratic Party and supported Bernie Sanders, the maverick progressive senator, for the party's nomination in 2016.
She accused the party leadership of being partial to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and against Sanders and resigned as a vice president of the party.
Sanders himself may run for the party nomination and another candidate from the party's left, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, has announced her candidature.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who comes from the party's centrist wing, is also likely to join the fray.
Gabbard, who was elected to the Hawaii state legislature when she was only 21, is the youngest person running for the presidency so far for 2020.
She had a run-in with Harris last week, accusing her of religious bigotry for her opposition to a nominee for federal judgeship because he belonged to a Catholic organization called the Knights of Columbus.
"While I oppose the nomination of Brian Buescher to the U.S. District Court in Nebraska, I stand strongly against those who are fomenting religious bigotry, citing as disqualifiers Buescher's Catholicism and his affiliation with the Knights of Columbus," Gabbard wrote in a newspaper op-ed.
AP adds from Washington: Gabbard has visited early primary and caucus states New Hampshire and Iowa in recent months and has written a memoir that’s due to be published in May.
Former Obama administration housing chief Julian Castro also announced Jan. 12 plans run for the presidency.
Gabbard’s run would not be without controversy. In 2016, she alarmed fellow Democrats when she met with Donald Trump during his transition to president and later when she took a secret trip to Syria and met with President Bashar Assad, who has been accused of war crimes and genocide. She questioned whether he was responsible for a chemical attack on civilians that killed dozens and led the U.S. to attack a Syrian air base.
She said she doesn’t regret the trip and considers it important to meet with adversaries if “you are serious about pursuing peace.” She also noted that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on faulty intelligence and said that she wanted to understand the evidence of the Syria attack.
When asked last year whether she would still consider running if Sanders ran, Gabbard said Sanders is a friend and she didn’t know what his plans were.