The South Asians Running 2020’s Campaigns

A boom in South Asian campaign staffers shows that the South Asian American vote matters. But will their efforts to shape the race work?

Meghna Rao

December 6, 2019

The South Asians Running 2020’s Campaigns
Huma Abedin handing Hillary Clinton notes and a pen (Wikimedia)

Shalabh Kumar, a Chicago-based Indian American industrialist and the founder of the Republican Hindu Coalition, was impressed with Donald Trump. It was 2016 and Trump had said all the right things — he believed in profiling Muslims to prevent terrorist attacks and claimed that Pakistan was a terrorist state. Kumar, who arrived in the U.S. in the late ‘60s, became the chair of Indian Americans for Trump and donated over $1 million to Trump’s campaign.

Today, Kumar takes credit for Trump’s political ad “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar” (“this time, it’s time for the Trump government”) that ran on Indian television channels leading up to the 2016 election. Some even say that Trump’s win in the state of Michigan, which went red for the first time in nearly three decades, came from the Indian American vote.

Kumar and Trump had figured something out. South Asians aren’t a large voting base, and like other Asian Americans, have historically low voter turnout. Yet, races are tight, and Trump won in Michigan by a margin of fewer than 11,000 votes. If South Asian communities can be convinced to vote, they might make all the difference.