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Ahead of California Primaries, Both Parties Eye Asian American Votes

President Donald Trump shakes hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-In. The promise of negotiations on the Korean peninsula and his administration’s hard stance on immigration are key issues for the Asian American voting bloc in this week’s California primaries. Photo courtesy of The White House/Wikimedia Commons.

Ahead of California’s primary elections on Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats are busy wooing Asian American voters — a fast-growing and increasingly vocal demographic that candidates believe will be key to winning this year’s polls.

According to CNN, both parties expect Asian American voters to show up in larger numbers than usual. Political Data Inc. found that 26 percent of all absentee ballots were sent to Asian Americans. Likewise, Asian Americans today are not as politically silent as an old stereotype suggests. To date, 11 percent of early voters in the California primaries identify as Asian — a proportion that’s close to their electorate share.

The Asian American population in Orange County has also grown from 4 percent of residents in 1980 to 18 percent in 2010.

Tricia Nguyen, representing the Vietnamese community at a southern California panel hosted by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said to NPR that by 2020, Asians could swing an election.

In an interview with CNN, Republican Young Kim said she spent last week canvassing around Fullerton. She’s vying for a congressional seat in southern California, representing neighborhoods where historically, Asian Americans have voted red. But in 2016, most of these votes went to Hillary Clinton.

Kim blamed the recent party-split on the topic of immigration.

“Whenever Republicans talk about immigration, people immediately think it is the part of anti-immigrant messaging.  It’s not,” Kim said to CNN. She explained that Republicans want to support legal immigration, and only discourage those who immigrate without necessary visas.

Another key issue, especially among Korean American voters, are relations with North Korea and negotiations over the divided peninsula. President of the Korean American Federation Josh Kim, said that its driven his group’s approval of President Trump.

“We support him,” Kim said to NPR. “Because we believe in what he’s saying now.”

But what Kim shares with his liberal counterparts in their new voting bloc is distaste for Trump’s hard-line on immigration.

Some Democrats are hopeful this signals a new wave of Asian American voters swinging left given the current political climate. They are focusing outreach efforts on Korean American and Chinese American communities, in particular.

Dr. Mai Khanh Tran, a Democrat running to flip the seat that Kim’s also running for, said to CNN that she believes Asian Americans have already begun to skew blue.

“We really have seen a change in the way Asian-Americans are thinking and the way they are going to be voting [in the last two years],” said Tran. “They do have concerns about the way immigrants are being vilified in general. Those of us who are of different color and a different culture, people look at us with the same eye, whether or not we are documented. And I think that is a negative affect that President Trump and his administration has put on our community.”

Other candidates are less optimistic.

“I am a Democrat, but I don’t see the Democratic party doing enough to reach out to Asian voters,” said Jay Chen to CNN, a Taiwanese American who ran for the seat in 2012 but lost to then-incumbent Rep. Ed Royce.

“The danger for Democrats is assuming that because Asians rejected Trump for President, it makes them reliably Democratic voters,” Chen said. “Asians in this district are very non-partisan and tend to vote for the candidate, not the party. If the candidate doesn’t reach out, they will not earn that vote.”

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