The November 7, 2017 elections across the United States underscored the growing influence of the Indian Americans and their coming of age and assuming greater roles in key states in the greatest democratic nation in the world’s political history. Indian Americans, a community of about 4 million people, who are now aggressively pursuing public office and a role in the country’s politics, matching their economic clout and academic advancements, also scored major victories, including to two state senates: Manka Dhingra in Washington on the west coast, whose victory flipped control of the senate to Democrats, and Vin Gopal’s victory on the east coast, flipping a long held Republican seat in New Jersey to the Democratic column.
Indian Americans Ravi Bhalla and Phalguni Patel easily won their respective races in New Jersey in which they had been targets of anonymous flyers that sought to portray them as a terrorist and an outsider, in the case of Patel, from a cricket-crazy immigrant community.
Manka Dhingra, the Indian American Democratic candidate for the Washington 45th Legislative District state Senate seat, won the Nov. 7 general election convincingly and, in turn, flipped the majority party of the state from Republican to Democrat.
Dhingra ousted her Republican counterpart, Jinyoung Lee Englund, to the tune of 55.4 percent to 44.6 percent in retaking control of the state. The former King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office senior deputy prosecuting attorney received 16,156 votes to Englund’s 12,997.
“I was proud of and excited about the result,” Dhingra said. “It reinforces the message from the beginning to make it about the people. It was about honesty, integrity and compassion. From the beginning I was clear I wanted a campaign run on values and not one that does attack ads. You are what Democracy looks like. And when Democracy wakes up, justice wins,” she said in her speech.
Vin Gopal, the former Monmouth County Democratic chairman with deep roots in the party there, defeated longtime state Sen. Jennifer Beck in the state’s 11th legislative district. According to unofficial results from the Monmouth County Clerk’s Office, Gopal defeated Beck 28,750 votes to 25,108 votes.
Beck, an 11-year legislator, conceded to Gopal on Tuesday night, dealing a blow to Republicans in the upper house of the New Jersey Legislature. The race was one of the most expensive and closely watched in the state. “I have been so honored to serve you and I want to wish Vin Gopal the best as he now takes the reins in District 11,” Beck told her supporters. “I wish him the best of luck and offer him any assistance I can lend him in the transition.”
Another major victory for the NRI community was, despite an 11th hour racist attack which depicted him as a terrorist, Indian American Ravi Bhalla emerged victorious, as he was elected the first Sikh mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey. “I’m very humbled and honored to represent a great city and the Indian American community,” The Sikh-American City Council member topped five other candidates on Tuesday and succeeded Dawn Zimmer, who decided not to seek a third term.
While campaigning for the mayoral race, the Indian-American born and raised in New Jersey was called a “terrorist” in targeted racist attacks. Anonymously distributed flyers featured a picture of Bhalla with the message “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our Town!”
The 44-year-old politician responded to the flyers, saying last week they were troubling but “we won’t let hate win”. “I want to use this incident as an opportunity to affirm to each other and our children the value of living in a diverse community where we are judged by the content of our character — not by the color of our skin or how we worship,” Bhalla wrote in a Facebook post.
Phlaguni Patel was elected to the education board of New Jersey’s Edison county, a major hub where Indian Americans live. The fifth big win of the night was Dimple Ajmera, to City Council, Charlotte, North Carolina.
“H(Y)UGE day yesterday,” wrote Shekar Narasimhan, a top Democratic strategist in an email to a request for response. The word “H(Y)UGE” was borrowed from Bernie Sanders, who ran against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination in 2016. That was his way to describe something massive, momentous.
Elections were held on November 7 for the state executive, including governors, legislative, municipal and school boards in New Jersey and Virginia and for other state bodies, local boards, judicial bodies and vacancies in other states.
The victories give Democrats a huge psychological boost that could help their fundraising and candidate recruitment. It could also accelerate the pace of Republican retirements, as Republican Bob McDonnell’s win in the 2009 Virginia governor’s race did for Democrats.
Buoyed by the November 7, 2017 victory, Democrats declared the start of their comeback with the goal of reclaiming control of the two chambers of Congress—the Senate and the House of Representatives—from Republicans.
“The door is certainly open for us,” said Nancy Pelosi, top Democrat in the House, going over the election results with reporters and the implications for the 2018 congressional races.
Pelosi said she was reminded of victories in similar elections in 2005 that led to Democrats taking the two chambers in 2006.
Democrats posted victories in an entire range of elections held on Tuesday to governorships in Virginia and New Jersey, legislatures, municipal and judicial bodies, using an unprecedented demographic and cultural mix of candidates that were so representative of the new America.