Nearly 100 Indian American candidates running for office in this year’s midterm elections

A wealth of Indian Americans, twice as many as 2017, are running for office.

July 14, 2018, 4:55 AM

Growing up in Beavercreek, Ohio, Aftab Pureval said he didn't have many Indian American politicians to look up to and was often discouraged by others from running for office.

“They’d tell me a brown guy named Aftab couldn’t get elected unless I changed my name to Al or Adam,” Pureval told ABC News.

Years later, Pureval, 35, won both the Democratic primary in Ohio's 1st Congressional District and the endorsement of a new political action committee, the Indian American Impact Fund, which supports Indian American political candidates.

"I started the Indian American Impact Fund to provide the infrastructure and mentorship I didn't have when I ran for office. I had to learn it all from scratch," Raj Goyle, the group's co-founder, told ABC News.

This year, nearly 100 Indian American candidates entered races for federal, state and local offices -– over twice the number who ran in 2017, according to the PAC.

Their efforts come as research shows that Asian Americans are among the nation's fastest-growing racial or ethnic groups. FiveThirtyEight, an ABC News partner, noted that a 2016 survey shows that two in five Asian-Americans did not identify as Democrats or Republicans, making them somewhat of a political enigma.

“Last year, there were at least 45 candidates who ran, and 25 won their races,” Gautam Raghavan, the group’s executive director, told ABC News, adding that the vast majority are running as Democrats this year.

Kamala Harris celebrates winning her Senate race at her rally in downtown on Nov. 8, 2016 in Los Angeles.
Barbara Davidson/LA Times via Getty Images

Last month, the group hosted a summit for over 200 Indian American “candidates, elected officials, donors, and community leaders” in Washington, D.C., which included keynote speakers Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., whose mother is of Indian ancestry.

“It was a very inspiring gathering. Thousands of Indian Americans are politically engaged, and they were eager to meet like-minded others at the summit,” Raghavan said, adding that some of Indian American candidates may be the first to win in their states, so it’s easy for them to “feel alone” out on the campaign trail.

The group endorsed Democrats Pureval, Sri Kulkarni in Texas' 22nd Congressional District and Hiral Tipirneni in Arizona's 8th Congressional District. Pureval and Kulkarni have won their party’s nominations, while Tipirneni will compete in Arizona’s August 28 primaries.

The June summit also included remarks by Republicans and Democrats alike, including all four incumbent Indian American House members – Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Democratic candidate for the 8th Congressional District, Dr. Hiral Tipirneni pauses as she is greeted by supporters April 24, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz.
Ross D. Franklin/AP

The attendees were people like Tipirneni.

“Some people jumped to a judgment and told me because I’m brown and a woman, there are two strikes against me,” Tipirneni told ABC News. “But once we got past that and started talking about the issues, we found common ground.”

A first-generation immigrant who moved to the United States from India when she was three years old, Tipirneni said her family came to the country to give her a “better life” and a “great education.”

“I’ve been able to realize my American Dream, and I’m running to help others realize theirs,” she said, adding that she was “touched” when a young Indian American girl came up to her and gave her a big hug at a campaign event in the Phoenix area.

“She was so excited and told me she wants to run for office, too,” Tipirneni said.

Tipirneni hopes that her campaign and those of fellow Indian American candidates will inspire the community to become more invested in politics.

“There are so many successful Indian Americans in the medical and science fields. But it’s short-sighted for them to think politics doesn’t matter. They need to become more involved and invested,” she said.

Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval speaks during the "Women for Aftab" advocacy group kickoff event in support of Pureval's 1st House District challenge to veteran Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, June 13, 2018, in Cincinnati.
John Minchillo/AP

Pureval, whose Cincinnati-area race is being targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s ‘Red to Blue’ list, said he also hopes to court younger voters.

“We have over 60 high-school and college-aged students – many of them Indian American – working on our campaign,” he said. “Some of them are taking next semester off from school to work, which their Indian American parents aren’t happy about. But the reality is that students feel compelled to work in this election cycle.”

Meanwhile, Kulkarni, who is running for a seat in Houston's suburbs, hopes to target Asian American voters who have historically not turned out in midterm elections.

“71% of Asian Americans never get messaged by either political party,” he told ABC News. “So we reached out to them in their own languages."

Kulkarni said his efforts to recruit Asian-American voters led to an 11-percent increase in the group’s primary election turnout since 2014, with an even higher turnout in the May runoff.

“There are 104 languages spoken in my district. My team speaks 13, and I speak 6. We purposely went out into mandirs and masjids to target voters,” he said, adding that he attributes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s historic Democratic primary upset in New York's 14th Congressional District to her courting of voters “who don’t usually vote.”

Representative Pramila Jayapal, speaks during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., April 25, 2018.
Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Indian American Impact Fund hopes to “get [its] endorsed candidates across the finish line” this election cycle. But beyond the midterms, it aspires to help the Indian American community in myriad ways in the coming years.

“I’m looking forward to working on our poll to gauge where the Indian American community is on different issues,” Raghavan said. “And beyond that, I’m excited to help train candidates to run in 2020.”

Those efforts mean a lot to Pureval, who said he represents "an American story."

"My parents immigrated from Delhi to Beavercreek, Ohio, where I grew up,” Pureval told ABC News. “I’ve always felt a connection to my Indian ancestry and culture.”

Pureval believes it’s “extremely valuable” to have a robust “Indian American infrastructure” in place, in addition to incumbent congressional role models “from Bera to Krishnamoorthi.”

“I’m definitely standing on their shoulders,” he said.