Indian American Sri Preston Kulkarni finished first in the Democratic primary in Texas’ 22nd congressional district with nearly 32 percent of the vote, but will have to face fellow Democrat Letitia Plummer in the May 22 runoff to earn the right to take on the incumbent GOP Rep. Pete Olson.
According to Texas election law, if a candidate doesn’t get more than 50 percent of the votes, there will be a runoff between the top two finishers.
With all the 129 precincts reporting, Kulkarni received 9,466 votes, while Plummer got 7,230 votes (24.3 percent). Mark Gibson, the Democratic nominee in 2016, finished last in a field of five, with 3,046 votes (10.2 percent). The other two candidates in the race, Steve Brown and Margarita Johnson, received 6,246 (21 percent) and 3,767 (12.7 percent) votes, respectively.
Olson, who has been representing the district since 2009, was the winner of the Republican primary, trouncing his nearest rival by nearly 65 percentage points.
Kulkarni, a former US diplomat who served in Iraq and Russia, among other places, had expressed cautious optimism ahead of the primaries.
READ: List of Indian Americans running for Congress in 2018 (January 10, 2018)
But his acknowledgement, two weeks before the election, that he was arrested at the age of 18, in 1997, for possessing less than a gram of cocaine may have denied Kulkarni outright victory on Tuesday night.
The charges were dropped after a two-year probation — which is usual for first-time drug offenders.
Acknowledging the incident, the candidate said it was due to youthful indiscretion and he did it at a time when his father was terminally ill and he was going to through a difficult time.
“We should not be stigmatizing our youth for the rest of their lives,” Kulkarni said.
His father Venkatesh Kulkarni, a professor and novelist, died in 1998 after battling leukemia for a year.
If elected, the biracial Kulkarni — his mother Margaret Preston Kulkarni is West Virginian — will become the first Indian American congressman from the state of Texas.
He is one of the nearly two-dozen Indian Americans who are running for Congress this year.
In an interview with The American Bazaar in January, Kulkarni said he was running because of the anti-American policies of the Trump administration.
Texas 22nd district has been a reliably Republican district. The GOP has a 10-point advantage in the heavily gerrymandered district, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index. In 2016, Olson defeated Gibson by nearly 20 points. In the presidential election the same year, President Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by 8 points in the district.
Kulkarni, who has raised more than $96,000 in campaign donations, is hoping that the demographic diversity of the district — it is a majority minority district — will favor him.