By: Eastern Eye Staff
America’s Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has crept ahead of his Democrat rival Hillary Clinton in the latest poll on Tuesday (November 1), a week before US voters elect their next leader.
Trump, who recently reached out to the Indian-American community at a rally in New Jersey, declared that if he won, the Hindu community would have a “true friend” at the White House.
A tracking poll released on Tuesday by ABC News/Washington Post revealed that Trump was leading Clinton by one percentage point following renewed controversy over her use of a private server when she was secretary of state, pollster Gary Langer said.
Trump’s 46-45 per cent lead in the four-way race for the White House, while within the margin of error, is the first time since May that he has polled ahead of Clinton in the survey.
The new poll was taken from last Thursday (27) to last Saturday (30), a period that includes FBI director James Comey’s announcement that his agents had found a new trove of emails that may be pertinent to an earlier investigation into Clinton’s handling of classified information.
The results flip 46-45 in the Democrat’s favour when combining the last seven days, Langer said. “Either way the results are exceedingly close,” he added.
Clinton can count on the support of the Indian-American community, among other groups.
There are an estimated four million US Indians, according to 2015 census figures. They are among the most educated ethnic groups and generally well off, according to the Pew Research Center, and about half are Hindu.
According to the Fall 2016 National Asian American Survey released last month, 70 per cent of Indian-American registered voters are Democrat supporters and are strongly behind Clinton, while only seven per cent support Trump.
Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi, who is contesting for the eighth Congressional District of Illinois in the House of Representatives, said Indian-Americans were “very concerned” about the rhetoric from Trump.
His Illinois district has a sizable Indian-American population, and the community had told him of their “concern about the rhetoric coming from people like Donald Trump, who has basically poisoned the political dialogue in this country with his insults to immigrants, people with disabilities, women, other minorities and veterans”, he said.
Krishnamoorthi added: “People more than ever are yearning for unity in the face of the collective challenges confronting the country.
“Indian-Americans feel that call to action and call to unity even more keenly.
“Trump says these things in a very cynical way. I think he knows better, but he is trying to deliberately appeal to the worst instincts in Americans.”
Krishnamoorthi said people could tackle such rhetoric by becoming more politically engaged and by voting.
Meanwhile, Trump’s camp has been working hard to reach out to the Indian community in the US, where he has a staunch following among some because of his promise to tackle the radical Islamist threat.
A rally last month in Edison, New Jersey, with a 5,000-strong, mostly Indian-American audience was organised by the Republican Hindu Coalition, whose founder Shalabh Kumar is one of Trump’s biggest fundraisers.
Describing India as a strategic ally, Trump told the gathering: “We will defeat radical Islamic terrorism when I’m president. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with India in sharing intelligence and keeping our people safe mutually.”
He added that India and the US “will be best friends” if he wins the election.
Trump’s appeal to south Asian immigrants to the US appears at odds with his consistent anti-immigrant rhetoric.
But his pledge to crack down on Muslim extremism appeals to some Hindus, who have seen India repeatedly struck by terrorism – the most significant example being the Mumbai terror attacks in 2008 by Pakistan-based militants, which killed more than 160 people.
A right-wing political group, the Hindu Sena, called Trump a “hero,” due in part to his claim to “save humanity from Islam and Islamic terror”.
Rohit Vyas, a popular anchor and news director of TV Asia, the largest Indian-American channel in the US, has been holding election shows for the past several months.
He conducts weekly national telephone polls among the Indian community in the US. He said younger viewers overwhelmingly (through informal polls) said they were most concerned about which candidate would work to establish tuition-free college education, healthcare benefits and, above all, employment for fresh entrants into the American workforce.
“While (Democrat Bernie) Sanders was in the race, he was the runaway favourite of young Indian voters. Now it seems they lean more toward Clinton. The older generation seems to be gravitating toward Trump, especially those who are in business,” Vyas said.
However, major fundraisers for the Clinton Campaign disagreed.
Referring to findings of the Fall 2016 National Asian American Survey, Ajai Jain said: “Hillary Clinton has built strong relations with India when she was the first lady and later as secretary of state. No incoming US president has had the level of interaction with India that Hillary has had.”
California-based Jain added: “Hillary has walked the extra mile for India. As a US senator she was co-chair of the Senate India Caucus. And as US secretary of state she made multiple visits, during which she highlighted the need for India to ‘not just look east, but engage east and act east’ – a mantra that (India’s prime minister Narendra) Modi’s government subsequently adopted.”
Last weekend, as Hindus, Jains and Sikhs celebrated Diwali, Trump spoke in Hindi in his latest attempt to woo Indian-American voters.
The billionaire New York businessman said, “Ab Ki Baar Trump Sarkar (This time Trump government)” – adapting Modi’s 2014 vote-winning catchphrase as his own – in a presidential campaign ad released last Thursday (27).
The 30-second video opened with a Happy Diwali message and featured footage of Trump speaking at the New Jersey gathering, lighting an oil lamp and promising close US-Indian relations. “The Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House,” he said in the ad. “We love the Hindus, we love India,” he added, saying he looked forward to working with Modi.
Among his other campaign pledges, Trump has proposed temporarily banning Muslims from entering the US.
He became locked in a war of words in July with the parents of a Muslim American soldier killed in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2004.
In a speech before the Democratic National Convention (DNC), the soldier’s father, a Pakistani immigrant named Khizr Khan, charged that Trump had “sacrificed nothing” for the country.
The Republican shot back on ABC News that he made “a lot of sacrifices,” then raised the stakes by tweeting: “Mr Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC.”
The remarks, and Trump’s refusal to apologise for suggesting Khan’s wife stood silently at his side at the convention because she was not allowed to speak, triggered an uproar within his party.
With polling day next Tuesday (8), Clinton and Trump have all to play for.
It is yet to be seen how allegations of corruption and sexual assault which have marred the Clinton and Trump campaigns, respectively, will determine the outcome of the election.
Trump has repeatedly called the recent FBI annoucement of investigating Clinton’s emails “the biggest political scandal since Watergate”.
But he has not been far from controversy during the campaign. A video made public on October 7 opened the candidate up to accusations of sexual assault. In the 2005 clip, Trump describes groping and forcing himself on women in vulgar, predatory language.
Since the video’s release, around a dozen women have accused the 70-year-old real estate mogul of unwanted and aggressive sexual advances.
He has dismissed the comments as “just words” and “locker room talk”. He has also denied the sexual assault allegations, threatening to sue his accusers after the elections.