The only Indian member of the Congress, Democrat Ami Bera, lost this year’s elections, which was swept away by the tidal wave of opposition to President Barack Obama. Two other Democrats with high Congressional hopes also lost. But Tulsi Gabbard, a Hindu who culturally identifies with India, although not of the diaspora, kept her seat.
She and two other women, South Carolina’s Republican Governor Nikki Haley and California’s Democrat Attorney General Kamala Harris, emerged stronger after their reelection with brighter political prospects.
The only breakthrough candidate winning an election for the first time this year is a 23-year-old Ohio law student, Niraj Antani, who was elected State Representative. With an impressive political resume of internship and campaign work just a year after graduation, he dazzled party officials who picked him over three veterans to run on their party line and went on to defeat another experienced Democrat politician in what could be the start of an eventful political career.
For some losing the election may only signal the start of a political career. Republican Neel Kashkari, for example, went into the race for California governor fully aware that he had a slim chance of defeating the formidable Democratic Party powerhouse, Jerry Brown.
“I’m just getting warmed up,” he said after the expected defeat.
His reason for taking on a losing proposition is to raise his profile and build name recognition while getting electoral experience. He lived for a week as a homeless person to draw attention to the problem. He won plaudits from some conservatives for trying to refashion the image of the party in a socially liberal state while preserving a libertarian-conservative core.
For other candidates like 27-year-old Republican in Arizona, Michael Gidwani, Krisha Bansal and Laddi Singh in Illinois, and Becky Singh in Missouri, it could be an image-building exercise.
Of the nearly 30 candidates who contested federal and state offices, some ran as independents or for small parties like the Libertarian Party and Green Party. But most represented the two major parties, Democratic and Republican and here they are:
Nikki Haley, South Carolina Governor:
The Republican was reelected to a second term, defeating her Democrat rival, Vincent Sheheen, by over 14 percent of the votes. The daughter of Sikh immigrants from Amritsar will take a victory lap next week with a trip to India next week at the head of a trade mission. Confident of her victory, she announced in April that the trip would take her to New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Punjab in search of cooperation in business and education. She overcame a desperate campaign against her by President Obama’s party member Sheheen, who called her a “whore” at an election rally, and another one in April that said she was going to be indicted on tax evasion charges, which proved to be false.
When she was first elected in 2010 at the age of 42 she became the youngest serving governor of a state in the US and the first woman governor in the state. Haley ran on her record of economic development and creating jobs, the highlight of which was getting Boeing to set up a plant to manufacture its Dreamliner aircraft. But her critics say she is anti-union and that she has been trying to cut social services.
Kamala Harris, California Attorney General: The Democrat won her reelection bid defeating her Republican opponent Ronald Gold by over 12 percent. The victory is a major political boost for Harris, 50, who could be on a trajectory to higher offices like senator or governor. (California Governor Jerry Brown is 76 years old). The daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father is able to also identify with the African American community. Her name also comes up in speculations about future Supreme Court appointments. Elected in 2010, she is credited with putting her liberal stamp on the state’s top law-and-order position. Among her achievements are stopping banks from taking over homes of people who defaulted on mortgages made improperly and reforming juvenile justice.
Tulsi Gabbard, Hawaii State Representative: As voters were reelecting her Nov 4, the Hawaii National Guard Military Police captain was called into service for relief action in areas affected by lava flow from the state’s Kilauea volcano. She immediately reported for duty and could not celebrate her victory over Republican Kawika Crowley with a 50 percent lead. After the defeat of Ami Bera, the only Indian American in Congress, Gabbard is the federal lawmaker with closest ties to India. Although not an ethnic Indian, she identifies culturally with India and is the first and only Hindu member of Congress. Gabbard, 33, took the oath of office on a copy of the Bhagavad Gita after her 2010 election. As one of the youngest members of Congress, a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and an Iraq War combat veteran, she has strong prospects for higher offices. She is also the first American Samoan to be elected to the House where she is a member of the House committees on Foreign Affairs and Armed Services.
, Ohio State Representative
: The 23-year-old law student swept into state House of Representatives as a Republican with 65 percent of the votes, defeating a Democrat. Antani’s entry into the race was itself unusual. The sitting candidate, Republican Terry Blair, died in June after his name was to be the ballot. Antani beat out three other experienced candidates to win the party leadership’s nomination to replace Blair on the ballot.
The son of immigrants from India who was raised in the Miamisburg area, Antani is a Hindu. A staunch conservative, Antani has already built up an impressive political resume. He has been an intern for Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Washington, and State Representative (now State Senator) Peggy Lehner. He also worked on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. His resume also lists a stint as a cook at a restaurant and a newspaper sport reporter.
He also chairs the Ohio Republican Party Asian Pacific American Advisory Council. His honors include being named one of the “Top 30 Conservatives Under Age 30” by Red Alert Politics, and named “College Republican of the Year” by the Ohio College Republican Federation and “Republican Man of the Year” by the Montgomery County Republican Party. The Ohio State University, from where he graduated, gave him the “Stanley D. Gottsegan Leadership Award.”
This story originally appeared on The Indian Diaspora.