Indians, Asian Americans may play key role in US poll

October 21st, 2008 - 8:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack ObamaWashington, Oct 21 (IANS) Indian Americans and other ethnic groups are expected to play a key role in the Nov 4 US presidential elections in Virginia, a solidly Republican state for the last 40 years but now seen leaning towards Democrats.There are more than 160,000 Asian American citizens of voting age in the state, and an aggressive registration drive is adding several thousand voters to the highly organised Asian ethnic groups, which see them playing a pivotal role in the tightly contested state.

Leaders of the large, affluent communities of Korean Americans, Vietnamese Americans and Indian Americans in Northern Virginia say sentiment among those groups favours Democratic nominee Barack Obama, the Washington Post said Tuesday.

But his Republican rival John McCain too enjoys a core of loyal support among older Asian refugees who suffered at the hands of communist regimes, it said.

Asian Americans could play as important a role in this national election as they did in the 2006 Senate race in Virginia, when they helped Democrat James Webb, a Vietnam war veteran, defeat incumbent George Allen, the Post said citing partisan activists and public interest groups.

Allen, a sitting senator who had presidential ambitions was considered a shoo-in in 2006 before he chose to call S.R. Sidarth, an Indian American supporter of Webb, “macaca” or a type of monkey. Faced with an outrage among Indian-Americans, Allen quickly apologised but never quite recovered from the infamous “macaca moment”.

Perhaps the most-organized Asian voters in Virginia are the Indian Americans, a highly educated and entrepreneurial group. They tend to vote Democratic, although they have applauded the Bush administration’s warm relations and recent civil nuclear agreement with India.

Some of their leaders are active in Democratic Party politics, raising substantial funds for local and state candidates. Many initially supported former first lady Hillary Clinton and have now switched their allegiance to Obama.

Anish Chopra, a long-time Democratic activist who is the state’s secretary of technology, said the community has evolved politically in recent years and felt empowered by Webb’s victory.

He said about 80 percent of Asian Americans who voted in that race, or about 50,000 people, supported Webb, far more than Webb’s 7,200-vote margin over Allen.

Other Indian Americans said Allen’s “macaca moment” served as a wake-up call to Asian voters with Sidarth’s father Shekhar Narasimhan, 55, an investment banker from Dunn Loring remarking: “That incident made us all start to think.”

“It really helped rally Asians to that election,” said Narasimhan, who is involved in the combined statewide campaign for Obama, Democratic Senate candidate Mark R. Warner and other candidates.

“Now, we have a new generation that is incredibly motivated. They are out there every weekend. I am astonished, thrilled and proud.”

Community leaders cited by the Post said many first-generation Asian Americans, who came here as refugees or economic immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s and are now reaching the retirement age, have tended to be business-oriented, insular and focused on issues in their homelands.

Second-generation professionals and their college-age children tend to be more liberal, engaged in domestic issues and eager to join forces with people from other backgrounds.

America’s fast-growing Asian American population of nearly 15 million has been often overlooked as a political factor, even though in some states a higher percentage of Asians than Hispanics are US citizens who can legally vote. Asian American voters also have a track record of high turnout in elections.

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