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Analysis: How will the exit of three candidates impact the AAPI vote on Super Tuesday?

Sanders photo from AFGE via Flickr Creative Commons,

By Ed Diokno, Views from the Edge

Super Tuesday is upon us and Asian American voters are ready to cast their ballots. AAPI voters have about 4million eligible voters in the Golden State, which has 415 delegates up for grabs.

The Democratic field of candidates has narrowed dramatically after the South Carolina primary. With Joe Biden’s overwhelming victory in South Carolina, Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigeig and Amy Klobuchar have dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination to run against Donald Trump.

Fivethirtyeight.com says, “In California, which votes on Super Tuesday, Asian Americans make up 16 percent of the population, the largest percentage of any state except Hawaii. The state’s Asian American voters account for 12 percent of likely voters who are registered Democrats, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which released a study of California voters last August. And that same research showed that 36 percent of Asian American likely voters in California are independents, compared to 43 percent who are Democrats, which means that if independents choose to cast a Democratic ballot, Asian Americans’ share of the primary electorate could be even higher.”

The latest polls taken before the South Carolina primary shows Sanders favored in California, but momentum is in Biden’s favor after his big win in South Carolina, drawing the overwhelming support of African Americans and moderate White voters.

Heading into Super Tuesday (but, before South Carolina), fivethirtyeight.com has four recent California polls with crosstab information on who Asian American voters are leaning toward voting for, and Sanders seems to have an edge, earning the most support in three of the four surveys the website looked at. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg also did well across the board.

“I’m not sure how much that matters,” says Rep. Ro Khanna, the Indian American congressmember representing Silicon Valley, and Sanders’ campaign co-chair. He adds, “I mean, (Biden’s) a formidable competitor, we’re treating him as such and we’re very confident we’re going to do well in a lot of Super Tuesday states. We think this is going to be a fight until the convention.”

A breakdown of the polls can be found here.

Sanders, whose campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, is Muslim American, was one of two Democratic candidates to attend the Islamic Society of North America’s annual conference in Houston over Labor Day weekend last year, an event that drew some 30,000 Muslims from all over the country.

Sanders has received endorsements from prominent Muslim American figures: Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim American women elected to Congress; and even millennial influencers like Hoda Katebi, a popular fashion writer, cultural critic, and political activist. A few weeks before Super Tuesday, Emgage PAC, which calls itself the biggest Muslim political action committee in the country, endorsed Sanders as well, according to Politico. Biden, for his part, appears ready to give Sanders the Golden State and instead focusing on states with large African American populations — Virginia, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas. The Biden campaign has spent zero dollars on California TV ads, and a teeny, tiny, almost negligible amount ($4,000) on digital.

Biden also received and early endorsement of the AAPI Victory Fund, one of the more active AAPI political action committees.

One of the most visible Asian American surrogates for Biden is Olympic skater Michelle Kwan, a native Californian, but she has been absent from the Golden State in the run up to Super Tuesday.

Warren and Lau first began talking about the importance of AAPI representation in government back when he was tapped for Warren’s Massachusett’s senatorial campaign in 2011. They have been very deliberate in including more than 100 AAPI staffers throughout the campaign, including Mary Lou Akai-Ferguson, the national AAPI community engagement and organizing director for Warren for President who has led the campaign’s grassroots outreach efforts.

Elizabeth Warren has invested time and money courting the Asian American vote

However the Warren campaign also compiled an impressive list of AAPI celebrities and community leaders endorsing the Massachusetts senator, including such luminaries such as actress Constance Wu, authors Celeste Ng and Gina Apostol, CNN pundit Jeff Yang, former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao and prominent psychology professor Kevin Nadal. 

Warren “has called for more support for legal immigration, including redistributing unused visas to address the millions of backlogged individuals currently waiting for a way to enter the United States, as well as lower barriers to naturalization for green card holders — over a third of whom are Asian, who make up the largest group of naturalized citizens in the United States. She has declared that she will not just extend DACA, but provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers — and their families; about one in 10 DACA-eligible individuals in the U.S. are Asian,” the group noted.

To counter this list, the Sanders campaign compiled their own list of endorsements from prominent AAPI celebrities and leaders.

Notice that Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is not even included in fivethirtyeight’s calculations because she has done so poorly in the four early primaries and caucuses. 

In California, a candidate must win 15% of the votes in order to earn any of the delegates. It is unlikely that Gabbard will reach that threshold except for her appeal for the state’s large Hawaiian, Samoan American and Hindu American subgroups.

photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons

Another candidate that shouldn’t be discounted is former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spend a fortune in television, print and online advertising in California and Texas and other Super Tuesday states. It has been his campaign’s strategy from the moment he announced his candidacy to ignore the first four contests and concentrate his considerable treasure chest on Super Tuesday. We’ll see if this unusual strategy works for the billionaire.

With Californians Sen. Kamala Harris and tech billionaire Tom Steyer out of the race, along with Asian American Andrew Yang, the state’s AAPI voters may go with the candidate who has put the most effort in winning their vote — respect and reverence being important in most AAPI cultures. That would be Sen. Warren, who like Sanders proposes a progressive agenda, but hasn’t been as strident nor did she have the well-established organization that Sanders never disbanded after his 2016 run against Hillary Clinton.

The big question is with moderates Steyer, Buttigeig and Klobuchar out of the race, where will their supporters go? And for the voters who opted to cast their votes early, if they didn’t vote for the remaining candidates, their votes will amount to zero.

“We are fighting this delegate by delegate,” said Roger Lau, Elizabeth Warren’s campaign manager and the first AAPI to head a national political campaign. Warren won only eight delegates after South Carolina’s Primary Saturday, but she has a record of being able to win even in races where she initially trailed, Roger Lau adds. “I’m confident that we’re going to continue fighting all the way through until the convention.”

Two weeks ago, Warren put forth her “Working Agenda for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders,” and like Sanders, has invested heavily in multi-lingual campaign materials.

Besides, California and Texas, the other states voting Tuesday include Warren’s home state of Massachusetts, Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, American Samoa, and Sander’s home state of Vermont. Altogether these states and territory represent a third of the total Democratic delegates.

AAPI voters could play key roles in Texas where several AAPI candidates — Gina Ortiz Jones in the 23rd and Sri Preson Kulkarni in the 22nd — running for Congress could spur  more AAPI voters to show up at the polls. The largest AAPI ethnic groups in Texas include: Indian (340,000), Vietnamese (258,000), Chinese (211,000), Filipino (170,000), Korean (101,000), and Pakistani (66,000).

In a Public Policy Polling survey of likely Texas Democratic primary voters released last week, 32% of Texas’s AAPI voters supported Sanders, 29% supported Bloomberg, 20% supported former South Bend, Indiana.Other states where AAPI could make a difference include Virginia and Colorado, representing 5.3% and 3% of the voters, respectively, according to AAPI Data.

Super Tuesday could be the make-or-break moment for several of the candidates and the moment the AAPI voters could determine the outcome of the Democratic race for President.

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