- Indian American politicos are excited about Gideon’s ability to unseat Republican Sen. Susan Collins and help deliver a Democratic majority in the Senate.
Expectedly, Indian American Sara Gideon scored a spectacular win in the Maine Democratic primary and is set to challenge embattled Republican Sen. Susan Collins in November in a race that could alter the balance of power in the U.S. Senate if Gideon prevails. Gideon has been maintaining a lead in the opinion polls over the 67-year-old Collins, who is seeking a fifth term in office.
In her acceptance speech after the primary results were declared on July 14, Gideon declared, “After 24 years in Washington, Senator Collins has become part of that broken system, putting special interests and her political party first, and Mainers know it and feel it.”
“Mainers deserve a senator who will bring people together to overcome the challenges we face,” Gideon, added.
A early July poll by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling found 46 percent favored Gideon and 42 percent favored Collins, while 11 percent said they were undecided. The poll has a 3.1 percent margin of error.
Gideon is the daughter of immigrants — her father is from India, while her mother is a second generation Armenian. She is serving her second term as Speaker of the House and fourth term in the Maine House of Representatives.
Important Race for Democrats
Longtime Democratic Party and community activist Shekar Narasimhan told this writer that Gideon winning the Democratic primary in Maine “will speak volumes about our political maturity as a community and give Democrats the margin to control the Senate and get things done.”
Narasimhan is the founder and chairman of AAPI Victory Fund, the first and only Asian-American Super PAC, which endorsed Gideon. “We liked Sara and endorsed her so she could tell her story and connect to the Indian American community,” he said. “And folks have stepped up. She can defeat Sen. Collins who has vacillated on issues of serious concern.”
Echoing the same sentiment, Sanjay Puri, chairman and founder of the U.S.-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC), told this writer that the Maine Senate race is very important for Democrats. Speaking on the day of the primary, he said that Gideon has “got a good opportunity” to win the primary and later defeat Collins. “Maine obviously is one of the key races for Democrats to take back the Senate,” he said.
Narasimhan noted that while a few Indian Americans are mainly involved the Gideon’s campaign financially, “people are gearing up for volunteer efforts too, when needed.”
Puri believes that one of the reasons Gideon hasn’t actively reached out to the Indian American community is because Maine doesn’t have a large Indian American population. But once the primaries are over, Puri said a lot of organizations, including the USINPAC will be working with her, “to support her and increase her visibility in the community. Our candidates need our support,” he said.
Gideon had signaled a potential bid in October 2018, after Collins voted to confirm Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court in a highly charged confirmation battle. “Collins’ vote for Kavanaugh confirmation has made Maine voters really angry,” Puri said. “The Democrats have targeted the seat in a big way and there is a lot of money and energy that are going to come in.” He noted that the Maine Senate race “will be one of the prime races that needs to be watched.” It is also once of the most expensive races, he said, “because of ideological issues.” The Bangor Daily News reported that Gideon has also built a fundraising advantage over Collins, and has raised a record $23 million so far.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Collins “has been struggling to maintain her reputation as as an independent-minded Republican moderate devoted to Maine, which enabled her to continue on as New England’s last surviving GOP senator.” That reputation is being put to the test this year in the most difficult reelection race of her career, the report said, adding, “And with control of the Senate at stake, it’s become one of the highest-profile Senate races in the country, already prompting millions of dollars in spending by outside political groups.”
A Colby College poll of Maine voters revealed that 56 percent of women have an unfavorable opinion of Collins, likely a result of her support for Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court seat.
“One of the most surprising findings is how poorly Senator Collins is doing with women,” Dan Shea, Colby College professor of government and the lead researcher on the poll, was quoted as saying in Sun Journal. “She had a 42 percent approval rating overall but that drops to 36 percent for women. Further yet, it drops to 25 percent for women under 50,” she said. “My best guess is this is residual impact on her vote for Kavanaugh.”
A day after announcing her candidacy, Gideon received three key endorsements. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America announced their support, along with EMILY’s List, a political action committee that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights. In January, Planned Parenthood endorsed Gideon, saying Collins “turned her back” on women and citing her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court as well as other judicial nominees who oppose abortion.
In an interview with the Press Herald on June 24, 2019, Gideon said she didn’t believe Collins was still acting in the best interest of Maine people. She said Collins had become “a creature of Washington, D.C.,” serving mostly the interests of the Republican Party.
“When I think about Sen. Collins, I think she might have been different from the other people in Washington when she was first elected, but I have to ask is that still the case,” Gideon said. She told the Press Herald that as a U.S. senator she would put “Maine and its people first.”
According to her website, Gideon had sponsored legislation in Maine, which was signed into law this year, to expand abortion access by permitting health care professionals who are not physicians to perform the procedure. She was also behind an effort to expand benefits to families in poverty.
On her website Gideon says her number one priority is building an economy that works for everyone. She believes that “Maine people are our best resource, that Maine students deserve our investment and that fostering innovation and entrepreneurship will lead to successful businesses statewide.”
The Indian Connection
Although there isn’t much information on Gideon’s father, news reports say he immigrated from India and worked as a pediatrician in Rhode Island, where Gideon, the youngest of four children, grew up. After meeting her husband Ben Gideon, a personal injury trial lawyer with the firm of Berman & Simons, she moved with him to Maine. The couple now lives in Freeport with their three children, Julian, Alek and Josie.
In previous interviews, Gideon has said she first got the idea to run for public office in 2009 when someone left a message on her family’s answering machine asking her husband to consider running for town council. When she pushed the button and heard the message, she said, “I thought to myself, actually I think that’s a job that I can do.”
Citing information in the 1989 East Greenwich High School yearbook, the East Greenwich News reported that during her senior year, Gideon was a football cheerleader, ran track, wrote poetry, and was named to the prom court.
In an interview with the Maine State Legislatures magazine, Gideon said that when she has spare time, “I just like to fold back into my family and my community. I am the person who empties the dishwasher, takes out the garbage and moves the kids from place to place. We do a lot of skiing, canoeing, kayaking and swimming, and I horseback ride with my daughter. I also spend a lot of time on the sidelines just watching the kids play. And that is the realistic life of a 40-something mother of three and speaker of the House. It’s the best I can do.”
Gideon graduated from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she also worked as an intern for U.S. Sen. Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island. She spent most of her career as an advertising account executive for a nationally renowned newspaper, where she was awarded the president’s award for excellence in sales.
She is a past member of the Legislature’s Joint Standing Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology, where she worked to lower energy costs, encourage increased energy efficiency and promote clean and renewable energy to capitalize on Maine’s natural resources and build a clean-energy economy. She also served as assistant majority leader for House Democrats in the 127th Legislature.
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Française de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.