Democrats hope to turn Texas blue — in part by banking on Asian Americans

Among the largest efforts undertaken by Democrats this election season is the bid to flip Texas, which hasn’t backed a Democratic presidential candidate since Jimmy Carter over 40 years ago. But it has been touted as being “in play.”

The population of Texas has swelled in the past few years, owing mostly to an influx of multi-religious and multiethnic communities, all driven toward its sprawling cities. The electorate has expanded with over 2.1 million additions since 2016. Polls have begun to predict a close race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in the state, and Asian Americans might have a big role to play in swinging the vote.

According to AAPI Data, a group that tracks the community in numbers, eligible Asian American voters in Texas shot up by estimates ranging from 42 to 50 percent from 2012 to 2018. The spike is higher than the overall population growth in Texas — pegged at 12 percent. It is estimated that Asian Americans are 5.5 percent of Texas’ voting population today.

And yet, Texas has never produced an Asian American member of Congress.

“Even in Texas, Asian Americans were traditionally inclined to vote Republican, because 75 percent of the voters vote Republican,” said Varun Nikore, founding president of AAPI Impact Fund, which has pledged a whopping $1 million to help increase Asian American turnout and bolster AAPI candidates in the state. “I predict that after this election cycle, the next big voting bloc for the Democrats will be Asian Americans.”

In the bid to turn the state blue, Democrats have offered at least five Asian American candidates for Congress. Moreover, five candidates of South Asian descent are in the running at all levels of government — county, state and federal. The three South Asians running for federal office — Dr. Pritish Gandhi in the 10th Congressional District, Donna Imam in the 31st District and Sri Kulkarni in the 22nd District — are all representative of the state’s changing demographics.

How Sen. Kamala Harris could have an impact

Experts believe moderate Democrats will usher in political change in Texas. A Biden-Harris ticket, in that respect, is a potential crowd puller. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a biracial candidate who would make history by becoming the first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president, could resonate with the rising desi voter base in Texas.

Harris was recently seen aiding the cause and underlining the importance of flipping the state: “If we turn Texas blue, we can guarantee we’ve blocked Donald Trump’s path back to the White House,” she wrote in a blog for Texas Democrats, reiterating that she was asking for Texans to turn up not for just the presidential vote, but also for “Democrats up and down the ballot who will fight on behalf of working people.”

That bodes well for other South Asians contesting Texas, too, experts say. The race toward flipping Texas with Asian Americans’ playing a huge part is so strong that Houston’s 22nd District contest has become one of the most expensive and hotly contested congressional races this season.

The South Asian American population in Houston has grown tremendously over the last three decades. And if Kulkarni wins, it will signify the power of growing of desi voters in the South, said Sangay Mishra, an assistant professor of political science at Drew University in New Jersey and author of “Desis Divided: The Political Lives of South Asian Americans.”

“They are traditionally seen as confined to coasts, but Texas signifies something different,” Mishra said.

Nikore agreed that “it is in the Sun Belt and the Southern states — Arizona, Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia — that the Asian American growth has been immense,” he said. “It has to do with where the jobs are growing.”

How banking on Asian Americans could become the norm

Sri Preston Kulkarni, 41, is a former diplomat, a polyglot conversant in at least six languages who quit his foreign service job to fight Trump’s party. His campaign is especially vocal about its pro-immigration politics, among the most important of political causes for Asian Americans. Experts give Kulkarni, who is part-white and part-Indian, a strong chance of taking the open seat as a Democrat.

“Sri will bring the experience of being Indian, biracial and of growing up in an immigrant community,” said Khyati Joshi, a professor of education at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey and author of multiple books about race, ethnicity and immigration. “As everyday people see someone whose life experience resembles theirs having a seat at tables of political power, they also see the power of their vote and a reason to get involved.”

Involvement is key when it comes to the community. Part of the problem is that Asian Americans don’t turn out to vote, but that is mostly because they aren’t reached out to as much, experts say. A recent AAPI Data poll found that 56 percent of…

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