Indian-American Democrat loses Congressional by-election

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New York, April 25 (IANS) A Democrat Indian-American doctor has narrowly lost a by-election to Congress in a heavily Republican constituency in Arizona but dramatically increased her party’s support in what was seen as a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.

Hiral Tipirneni lost by only six per cent of the votes in Tuesday’s by-election from a constituency that was considered so heavily Republican that the Democratic Party did not even bother to run a candidate there in 2016 considering it futile.

The by-election in the constituency, which covers the suburbs of the state’s main city Phoenix, was caused by the resignation of Trent Franks, the sex scandal-tainted long-time Republican member of the House of Representatives.

Trump polled 21 per cent more votes in the constituency against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.

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Had Tipirneni won, she would have joined the four Indian-Americans in the House of Representatives — Ami Bera, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Pramila Jayapal and Ro Khanna. Kamala Harris is a senator of part Indian-American heritage.

Despite Tipirneni’s defeat, her polling 47 per cent of the votes in a constituency that had previously been written off as unwinnable by the Democrats was seen as a boost for the party working hard to capture Congress in the November elections.

“Win or lose, we’re taking this to November,” Tipirineni told her supporters after the election, according to a report.

Arizona’s Republican Senator Jeff Flake conceded that Tipirneni’s showing was a warning to his party, saying that the six per cent margin signalled a threat.

Franks, who had served in the House of Representatives for 14 years, resigned in December when he faced charges of sexual harassing his employees, including offering one of them $5 million to be impregnated by him.

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With the rising awareness of sexual harassment in the US and a rejuvenated women’s movement, the Republicans also fielded a women, Debbie Lesko, to run against Tipirneni.

Both parties poured a lot of money and resources into the campaign that followed two humiliating by-election defeats for Republicans in Alabama and Pennsylvania.

Pre-recorded calls by Trump flooded voters’ phones and House Speaker Paul Ryan held fundraisers for Lesko, a former state senator.

While rejecting corporate-linked contributions, Tipirneni raised $734,937 according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission reported by the political finance monitoring site OpenSecrets.org. Lesko brought in $564,404 to her campaign.

In addition, groups outside the state were reported to have spent about $1 million to support Lesko.

Supporters from around the nation mobilised to canvass for Tiprineni. She immigrated to the US as a three-year-old with her parents.

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She lost her mother to cancer and has been an advocate for cancer research and care. A political novice, she worked as an emergency room doctor.

(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected])

–IANS

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