HomeAsian AmericansDemocrats send mixed messages to AAPI communities

Democrats send mixed messages to AAPI communities


Dr. Mai Khanh Tran is running for Congress in California’s 39th District against the Democratic Party’s wishes.

Views from the Edge

Even though AAPI voters overwhelmingly went with Hillary Clinton in 2016, there’s no guarantee that they will continue to vote for Democrats. The Democratic National Committee isn’t taking any chances when it comes to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters, according to Rep. Grace Meng, the DNC’s vice chair.

“We know that we can’t just be engaging with AAPI voters every two years during an election,” said Meng in an oped cowritten with DNC chair Tom Perez. “That’s why we are engaging, organizing and mobilizing all communities, including AAPI voters, 365 days a year. There are no more off years.”

Last month, during AAPI Heritage Month, the Democrats issued this statement:

“We also honor the deep tradition of public service that runs in the AAPI community. From Dalip Singh Saund, who was the first Asian American to serve in Congress, to Patsy Mink, the very first woman of color ever to serve in Congress, to Norman Mineta, who was the first Asian American appointed by a president to serve as a cabinet secretary, generations of AAPIs have served this country with honor and distinction in all echelons of Government. And Democrats have continued to help elect AAPI leaders so that those in elected office better represent the diversity of our country. In the last year, Democrats Kathy Tran and Kelly Fowler became the first Asian American women elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, while Vin Gopal was the first Indian American elected to the New Jersey state Senate and Manka Dhingra’s victory flipped control of the Washington state Senate, giving Democrats full control of the state government.”

Fine words, but it is not so easy when it comes to putting those words into practice in the rough and tumble world of politics.

The Democrats’ message to Mai Khanh Tran, who is running for Congress in California’s 39th District, was blunt. With half a dozen Democrats running for Congress in her 39th district, they showed her a discouraging poll and argued that she could not win — and she risked fracturing the Democratic vote in the June primary election, possibly opening the door to having two Republicans — due to California’s top-two Primary — vying for the seat in November.

Tran, a physician inspired to run against the Trump agenda, pointedly replied that she was “the only qualified woman, the only immigrant and the only physician in the race.”

“I said to them, frankly, let the voters decide,” Tran told the New York Times.

On Wednesday (May 30), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took sides in that House race and backed Gil Cisneros, a Navy veteran and former Republican, who made his fortune by winning the California lottery in 2011. They did this even though the California Democratic Party failed to endorse any of the candidates. Cisneros garnered only one vote.

While Tran infused her campaign with her own money – reportedly $750,000 – Cisneros, who said that he was self-funding his campaign, has a campaign chest of $2.5 million.

Tran has won the support of key Asian American political groups and individuals, including: Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Leadership PAC (ASPIRE), California API Legislative Caucus, Asian American Action Fund, Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Victory Fund, CAPA 21, Korean American Democratic Committee, The Progressive Vietnamese American Organization (PIVOT), Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize Winner, Dr. Tung Nguyen, former Chair of Advisory Commission on AAPI, as well as many local office holders in her district.


California civic groups have set up multi-lingual phone banks to get out the Asian American vote

Republicans have well-known candidates in the 39th’s race, including former state Senate leader Bob Huff, Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson and former state Assembly member Young Kim, a former Royce aide who has the incumbent’s endorsement. The possibility of having two Republicans come in one and two is strong and that worries the Democrats.

RELATED: Democrats, Republicans woo Asian American voters in California

Earlier, another Asian American candidate and perhaps someone who had the most political experience, expressed his loyalty to the Democrats by voluntarily withdrawing from the race to avoid splitting the Democratic vote.

“The greatest contribution I can make right now is to help consolidate the field, by stepping away from it,” said Jay Chen, who garnered 42% of the vote in an earlier bid for the seat. “We cannot afford to let this seat slip away, and we must all put the greater good over personal ambition.

“This was not an easy decision to make. Polling and endorsements show that I am the strongest Democrat for the open primary. We have opened our office, hired staff, and made significant investments in this race. Many have upended their lives and made major contributions to see this campaign succeed. But after close consultation with mentors, friends, family and staff, we believe this difficult decision is the right decision, for us, for our district, and for the Democratic majority we need to guide our country.”

The anti-Trump fervor that energizes Democrats and inspired some of them to run for office has come back to bite the party. With so many candidates running for a single position, Republican candidates might find an opening that could overcome the Demos’ grass-roots organizing. The DNCC is put in the awkward position of asking for AAPI votes, but at the same time, asking AAPI candidates to withdraw from a campaign.

Republicans and Democrats will be eyeing the results of the Congressional race in 39th and the 48th congressional districts in today’s Primary Election. The district encompass part of Orange County.

The county, which was once the bastion of conservatism in blue-state California with a majority White population, has been targeted by the DNCCC as possible flippable districts.  The county’s demographics have shifted dramatically in recent years with the influx of Latino and Asian residents, who lean Democratic. Orange County, which once had a chapter of the KKK, now is home for two Little Saigons, a Koreatown that rival’s L.A.’s and a thriving Latino district..

Four of the seven Congressional districts representing the county are held by Republicans, but in 2016, although the long-time GOP Congressional incumbents won, the voters went with Hillary Clinton, 51% to 43%, for president.

Thanks to immigration, the historic gap in voter registration In Orange County has narrowed between the Democrats and Republicans with a slight edge to the GOP.

Republicans tend to turn out in greater numbers in the mid-term elections and that gives Democrats a queasy feeling affecting strategic decisions that leave Democratic Asian American candidates feel that they are on the outside looking in. Democrats are looking at the AAPI vote to help swing the district, but you can’t woo those voters without giving their candidates serious consideration and respect.

Polls are open today, June 5, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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