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Indian-American Republican Party challenger picking up support to head party

New York, Jan 27 (IANS) Indian-American Harmeet Dhillon, who is mounting an insurgent campaign against the party’s leadership, is picking up support in her bid to head the party at a pivotal moment when former President Donald Trump’s future hangs in the balance.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is emerging as a potential challenger to Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, expressed support for Dhillon on Thursday calling for a change in the leadership of the Republican National Committee (RNC).

Chandigarh-born Dhillon, who proudly broadcasts her Punjab roots with the Twitter handle “@pnjaban” is running against the current chair Ronna McDaniel in the organisational elections to be held on Friday.

Chair since 2017, McDaniel has faced criticism for the party’s string of failures – the loss of the House of Representatives in 2018 and the Senate and the presidency in 2020, and poor performance in 2022’s mid-term elections.

“I think we need to get some new blood in the RNC, I like what Harmeet Dhillon said about getting the RNC out of DC,” DeSantis said in an interview with the founder of the conservative Turning Point USA group who is also backing her.

Dhillon’s platform for the leadership includes decentralising the party organisation by setting up more regional centres away from Washington, DC, to build the party’s grassroots and reduce the influence of lobbyists and self-serving politicians.

“RNC needs to be setting the vision and the leadership for the party. Not Congress. Not beholden politicians,” she said.

She also wants to better use technology for campaigns.

Dhillon has picked up support from two state committees, Nevada and Washington, the heads of the party in four states, Arizona, Texas, Massachusetts and Wyoming, and from several high-profile party donors, as well as media figures influential within the party.

Alabama state Republican committee passed a vote of no confidence in McDaniel’s leadership.

According to Dhillon’s website 29 of the 168-member RNC have openly endorsed her.

Although she had been close to Trump and served as one of his lawyers during the last election and the House probe into the January 2021 riots, her performance in the party election against the establishment would also test Trump’s clout as he prepares to run for the party’s nomination next year.

DeSantis’s endorsement has contributed to making the chair’s election a sort of referendum on Trump.

McDaniel has closely aligned herself with Trump, while Dhillon has not openly gone against him during the campaign, while repudiating Trump’s continued claim that he was the rightful winner in 2020.

Harmeet Kaur Dhillon, who immigrated to the US as a child, drew national attention when she said a Sikh prayer at the opening of a session of the Republican National Convention in 2016 — the first time a non-Abrahamic religion figured in a national party convention.

Her Sikh religion has come up in the campaign for the chair with accusations that there has been a whispering campaign about her faith.

An RNC member, Solomon Yue, went public about a video of her convention prayer being circulated to make her religion an issue.

Several Republicans joined in condemning it.

Dhillon tweeted, “No amount of threats to me or my team, or bigoted attacks on my faith traceable directly to associates of the chair, will deter me from advancing positive change at the RNC.”

McDaniel denounced the attacks on Dhillon because of her faith, pointing out that she herself belongs to the minority Mormon religion, which is often attacked.

She is the granddaughter of a former Michigan governor and niece of Mitt Romney, who was the unsuccessful Republican Party candidate for President in 2012.

Dhillon, whose law practice takes on discrimination cases, mainly of conservatives, has been associated with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is reviled by many Republicans and gives some of them pause.

(Arul Louis can be contacted at arul.l@ians.in and followed at @arulouis)

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