Pramila Jayapal, a state senator in the state of Washington, is poised to become the first Indian American woman to be elected to the U.S. Congress in November. Jayapal, a Democrat and a Bernie Sanders supporter during the primaries, won the open primary from Washington’s District 7, making her all but a winner in the Democratic Party leaning district. Pramila Jayapal handily won an open Congressional primary last week to set up a November showdown with a second-placed rival.
Jayapal fought a primary against Joe McDermott and Brady Walkinshaw, also Democrats, for Washington state’s 7th Congressional district that includes the city of Seattle. With endorsement from Bernie Sanders, Jayapal polled 38% of votes, leaving the two men to duke it out for second place with around 20% vote each.
Six other candidates, including Arun Jhaveri, another Democrat, polled less than 9% of the vote. The top two vote-getters will move on to the fall election after all of the votes are counted and final results are certified in about two weeks.
Jayapal describes herself as progressive and was among the first congressional candidates endorsed by Bernie Sanders. “We’re building a movement that can clearly stake out a positive vision for the future of America at a time when too many people feel cynical about change, and when too many people are struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table,” Jayapal said. Jayapal ran on a platform of pledging to fight for a higher minimum wage, debt free college, and expanded Medicare and social security.
The Indian-born Jayapal will face off one of the two other Democrat candidates in the top-two primary system, which much like California, will pit the top two primary vote-getters against each other irrespective of their party affiliation.
Jayapal was one of the first 2016 congressional candidates to be endorsed by Sanders. Following her victory, The Nation quoted Sanders as saying: “Pramila just proved that candidates can run a strong progressive campaign funded by small-dollar donors and win big. The people-powered movement that propelled our campaign to victory in states around the country is already changing how campaigns are run up and down the ticket.” The Nation, a left-leaning magazine which endorsed Sanders, said Jayapal “scored one of the biggest progressive victories of 2016.”
Jayapal’s path to Capitol Hill was paved through a stint on the Wall Street and progressive activism in support of women and immigrants’ rights. She came to the U.S. in 1982 as a student.
Jayapal is hoping to take over the seat held since 1989 by Congressman Jim McDermott, who announced his retirement earlier this year after serving 13 terms in the House of Representatives. A physician who travelled often to India for medical work even before he entered Congress, McDermott was a strong votary of US-India ties. Jayapal, who was born in Chennai and was raised in Singapore and Indonesia before coming to the US at 16, has been a longtime civil liberties and immigration activist in the Pacific Northwest, which is home to a large foreign-born population.