United States Senator Kamala Harris speaks at Los Angeles's Families Belong Together March in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Luke Harold)

Two Indian-American Women Could Be in 2020 US Presidential Tickets


JULY 04, 2020

Indian-American executives have elevated to the top positions in many US-based global companies. The most prominent ones are Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet. 

In US politics, Indian-Americans can be called minorities among minorities. Still, current political environments have indicated that the 2020 presidential election could be a showdown between Joe Biden-Kamala Harris, and Donald Trump-Nikki Haley. Both Harris and Haley are daughters of Indian immigrants.


Kamala Devi Harris, a junior senator from California, identifies herself as a black politician because her father, Donald Harris, a Stanford professor of economics, was a black immigrant from Jamaica. However, her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a Tamil Indian from Chennai, India, with whom she and her sister Maya lived after her parents divorced. 

Nimrata "Nikki" Randhawa, former US ambassador to the United Nations who married Michael Haley, is the daughter of Ajit Singh Randhawa and Raj Kaur Randhawa, Sikh immigrants from Punjab, India. 

Trump and Biden in Polls

Political analysts had predicted that Trump would win reelection thanks to the US' healthy economy: 8.5 million jobs created between January 2017 until February 2020, and the unemployment rate was down to 3.5 percent, the lowest in the last 50 years, earlier this year.

However, COVID-19 has shattered Trump's reelection dream.  The pandemic has infected over 2.7 million and killed more than 130,000 Americans. The June unemployment rate was 12.4 percent despite the massive COVID-19 economic bailout. 

The economic meltdown has plummeted Trump's net favorability rating, from -3 percent in March to -8 percent in April to -13 percent in May, according to the Monmouth University polls. The tragic death of George Floyd has driven his net favorability rating to go down further to -13 percent in June according to the same pollster.

More than that, RealClearPolitics aggregated polls showed that Trump is trailing Biden -9.4 percent nationally, and between -3 percent to -7.5  percent in crucial swing states.

Why a Female Running-Mate is Critical

Bloomberg's Laurence Arnold says in The Washington Post that women's turn out always exceeds men's in every presidential since 1964. Women have tended to choose Democratic Party's candidates while men have picked GOP's since 1980. In the 2016 presidential election, 53 percent of voters were women, and 47 percent were men. Trump won among men by +11 percent but lost among women by -13 percent. 

A new The New York Times/Siena national poll shows that Trump is trailing Biden among women by -22 percent, and his support among men has evaporated to -3 percent. 

Why Kamala Harris and Nikki Haley

Biden who said he would pick a woman as a running mate and potential candidates include white women: Senator Tammy Baldwin, Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Senator Amy Klobuchar; Hispanic women:  Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham; and black women: Rep. Stacey Abrams, Representative Val Demings, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and Senator Kamala Harris.

However, the current anti-racial movements across the US may gravitate the running mate pick toward a black politician. Information system professor Karthik Balasubramanian writes in The New York Times that to win the 2020 election, Biden can focus on turning out eligible black voters in key metropolitan cities of Florida, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Her analysis shows that in 2016 Trump won Florida by 113,000 votes, while 379,000 eligible black voters in Miami-Dade County did not vote. Trump carried Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania by 77,744 votes, but 603,000 eligible black voters in Milwaukee-Wisconsin, Detroit-Michigan, and Philadelphia-Pennsylvania stayed at home.

Abrams, Demings, Rice, or Harris is an excellent pick for the ticket. Yet, Abrams is not famous nationally, Demings is an ex-police chief who could turn off black voters' enthusiasm, and Rice could resurrect the bad memory of the 'Benghazi Gate.'

Harris, who has a 20-year legal and political experience, is a "Do No Harm" VP candidate, according to Bill Scher, Politico Magazine's contributing editor. 

"As a liberal woman of color, she won't be subject to complaints from the left…. As a senator from the deep blue state of California, she won't be dogged by home state conservatives," says Scher in RealClearPolitics.

The speculation that Nikki Haley would be Trump's running mate started end of last year in "A Warning," a tell-all book written by an anonymous in the Trump administration. In March 2020, CNN political analyst Paul Begala said that Trump would almost certainly pick Haley as his presidential candidate to attract suburban women.

Trump repeatedly denied the speculation, but electoral reality and polls show that Trump's chance to win reelection is pretty slim if he depends on as his core base—self-identified Republicans, men, rural voters.

Haley is attractive because of her strong conservative credentials and being an experienced non-white female politician. She is also much more popular than the president among various voter groups. 

An April 2018 Quinnipiac poll showed that Nikki Haley was the most popular figure from among Trump's foreign policy team. She garnered a net approval rating of +46, while the president's net approval rating was -15 percent.

The poll also showed that Haley gained a net approval rating of +56 percent among Republican, +32 percent among Democrats, +44 percent among independents, +50 percent among men, +42 percent among women, +11 percent among blacks, +47 percent among Hispanics and +15 percent among youth. These fantastic figures make Haley's chance to be in the GOP presidential ticket pretty high.

The US political dynamics may change between now and November, so that who Biden and Trump would pick as running mates for the election may vary. 

Despite this, the speculation that a minority woman would be the US vice president whichever pair of candidates win the election teaches us that political realities could make the majority-minority dichotomy irrelevant. Indonesian politics would not be an exception.

A non-Javanese presidential candidate with a non-Muslim running mate--or vice versa--winning an Indonesian election sounds impossible today. But at one point in the future, it could be a reality.  

Didin Nasirudin is the managing director of Bening Communication and an observer of US politics.