Election in key swing state on November 7 is seen as national “bellwether.”
ANNANDALE, Virginia: Over 130 activists of the Indian and larger Asian American community gathered Saturday evening to celebrate “Diwali,” the festival of lights, at an outreach event headlined by Ralph Northam, Democratic candidate in Virginia’s gubernatorial race.
Some three weeks out from election day on November 7, in a key swing state, Lieutenant Governor Northam, 58, and Republican Ed Gillespie, 56, are locked in a tight race to replace Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe who is limited to a single term under Virginia law.
Northam is a pediatrician, and has served as a doctor in Iraq. He is a lawmaker and has led the charge to ban smoking in restaurants. In the 2013 Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, he squared off against Indian-American Aneesh Chopra, the first US Chief Technology Officer under President Obama. He now hopes to become the 73rd governor of Virginia.
Earlier on Saturday, former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for Northam in a roundtable discussion on workforce development in Reston, and on Thursday, October 19, former President Obama will be stumping for him at a get-out-the-vote rally in Richmond. The gubernatorial race in Virginia is seen as an early harbinger of the midterm elections next year.
“Don’t you think there isn’t enough attention on Virginia,” Northam told the gathering at the Diwali celebration. “We are the bellwether for this country,” he said. “People are watching us, what direction are we going to go in.”
The celebration, held at the Ernst Community Cultural Center on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College, turned out to be a power-packed event for Democrats in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Together with Northam, the distinguished speakers and guests included: Attorney General Mark Herring who is seeking re-election; First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe, wife of Governor Terry McAuliffe; Justin Fairfax, running for Lieutenant Governor; Delegate Mark Keam representing District 35 which encompasses the town of Vienna and neighboring areas; and a good number of other elected officials.
The event was hosted by Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia (DAAV), Virginia’s 11th Congressional District, and AAPI Victory Fund. Among the lead organizers were Jay Bhandari and Manisha Singh who doubled up as emcees.
Northam minced no words when it came to what he called the “detrimental policies coming from Washington” under the Trump administration. “We are not going to accept the clown show that we are seeing in Washington as the new normal,” he said, to loud cheers from the audience.
Decrying the “hatred, bigotry, discrimination and fear” caused by the Trump presidency, he underscored, “that’s not what this country is about, it’s not what the Commonwealth of Virginia is about.”
Later, in an interaction with journalists, he said, “Look at all these immigrants that are here tonight, what they contribute to our society, to our community. That is why we need to welcome people to Virginia. We can’t continue the fear mongering, the hatred and the bigotry that is coming out of Washington, DC,” he stressed.
Addressing the audience, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate said, he is “so distressed to hear President Trump talk about getting rid of subsidies, putting 30 million Americans at risk of losing their healthcare coverage. We can’t do that in the richest country in the world. They don’t care about us,” he said, about Republicans. “All they are trying to do is take Barack Obama’s name off of everything they can. That is why these elections (statewide and municipal) have such tremendous consequences,” he emphasized.
Northam made a strong pitch to “re-elect Mark Herring as Attorney General who has done a great job in Virginia,” he said.
Herring has announced he is suing the Trump administration to halt its actions on dismantling Obamacare. President Trump’s recent executive order stops CSR (cost-sharing reduction) payments which would result in higher premiums and destabilize the market.
“I have joined eighteen other attorney generals across the country to challenge that order,” Herring told the audience at the Ernst Center, eliciting much applause. His fund-raising appeal reads: “As attorney general, Mark will never stop resisting Trump’s agenda.”
Among his other priorities, the incumbent attorney general spoke of working to combat the drug and opioid epidemic that has claimed the lives of 60,000 Americans last year alone, combating hate crimes, and making sure that Virginia is a place that is open and welcoming to everyone.
As the guest of honor at the Diwali celebration, First Lady of Virginia Dorothy McAuliffe, wife of Governor Terry McAuliffe, was charm and grace personified as she met and mingled with guests.
“Happy Diwali. What an honor for me to be here tonight,” she told the audience. “You are such great givers in your community and that is really what it is all about.”
About the upcoming Virginia election, she noted, “These statewide races really are an important message, an important endeavor for the rest of the country” which “is looking at us, to see what happens in our General Assembly with our House of Delegates, to see if the legacy we have created here with our Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, continues in the Commonwealth.”
Like Northam, Justin Fairfax decried the Trump administration making it clear, “We don’t like what is happening in Washington, DC. We know that this president is trying to take us down a very dark political path,” he said, referring to his 2016 election campaign which “was about pitting us against them, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, and homophobia.”
Fairfax told the audience, “That is why we celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, to light our path in the Commonwealth, in the country. This room looks like America to me,” he said. “This room looks like who we are when we are at our best. This is the greatest nation on earth because of our diversity and not despite of it.”
Recalling that President Trump “issued one of the most horrific executive orders,” a ban on those of Muslim faith from coming into this country, Fairfax said, “it was unconstitutional, it was illegal, and it was immoral,” and he was proud to go to Dulles airport on the first night of the executive order and convey the message, “You will not discriminate against people based on their religion. We are stronger because of people who choose to come to this country,” he emphasized. “We are stronger because of our diversity.”
Extolling Northam as “a gentleman” and “a true statesman,” Fairfax denounced the GOP for running ads trying to tie him to MS-13 gang violence, and favoring sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the streets.
“Those politics are dead,” he said. “We will not tolerate any more fear mongering. Those days are over. Ralph is fighting to get healthcare for 400,000 more Virginians. That is what is on the ballot on November 7″.
Fairfax asserted, “Virginia is the center of the political universe. What we do on November 7 is going to help turn the narrative, the story for the entire United States of America. It is a powerful position for us to be in,” he said.
Noting that Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and some Buddhists, Delegate Keam said, the festival of lights “is so important to us, a historic opportunity for us to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, victory of good over evil, victory of knowledge over ignorance, victory of hope over despair.”
He told the audience, “We are celebrating Diwali in the traditional way, with family. If you are not related by blood, you are related by a common ideology.”
Looking around the room, he marveled at the spectrum of colors. What makes America great is not some guy who sports a red cap; what makes America great is the myriad colors in this room, he affirmed.
“Diwali is always about the next big thing. It is always about closing one chapter and starting a new chapter. That is what the festival of lights is about – celebrating a new year,” he said, adding, “A new day is coming in America and it starts right here in Virginia.”