By Lara Korte, Jeremy B. White, and Sakura Cannestra
THE BUZZ: California’s Asian American voters have shown themselves to be a powerhouse political force in recent years, and could determine the outcome of two of the nation’s most competitive Congressional races.
Orange County’s massive Asian American population, which includes one of the largest Vietnamese communities outside Vietnam, has been the subject of much political courting by parties and candidates over the past year as we’ve approached the midterms. The area is held by GOP Reps. Young Kim (CA-40) and Michelle Steel ( CA-45) — two Asian American women who narrowly flipped their seats in 2020. Democrats are eager to flip those seats back to blue, especially in a year where they’re in danger of losing their narrow majority in Congress.
While Asian American voters don’t act as a monolith , it’s clear that both parties see them as a crucial factor in the path to victory in November. Last year, the Republican National Committee set up an Asian Pacific American Community Center in Westminster, where they host game nights, potlucks and other events for the Little Saigon community. And on Tuesday, the DCCC, House Democrats’ main campaign arm, announced it was dropping $60,000 in ad buys across Orange County — part of a larger, seven-figure outreach campaign to Asian Americans across the country.
Asian American voters have also been pivotal in San Francisco’s recent political turmoil. They played prominent roles in supporting the recalls of three San Francisco school board members, galvanized by the halt of merit-based admissions at prestigious Lowell High School and by a recalled board member calling out Asian-Americans (an Asian-American school board member who secured her spot after supporting the recall is now embroiled in her own scandal ). Fear over anti-Asian attacks also helped drive the recall of former district attorney Chesa Boudin. It’s no accident that new D.A. Brooke Jenkins quickly visited Chinatown and vowed to crack down.
Flipping the seat is going to be harder for Democrats in CA-40, where redistricting gave Kim a significant advantage, moving from a D+4 in 2020 to an R+5 this year. Her Democratic challenger, Asif Mahmood, came in first in the primary after garnering 41 percent of the vote, but the conservative vote, which was split three ways in June, will likely consolidate around Kim in the fall.
Steel’s district, on the other hand, presents a much riper opportunity for Democrats. Redistricting swung her from an R+6.5 to a D+5 this year. Democratic challenger Jay Chen also managed to come out of the primaries slightly ahead of Steel — a lead that could grow larger with an increased turnout in November.
Perhaps most interesting is the difference in how the parties are appealing to Asian American voters in Orange County. DCCC’s recent ad hits on abortion access and aims to paint Republicans’ agenda as a “threat to people nationwide and especially women and families within the [Asian American/Pacific Islander] community,” as DCCC Senior Advisor for AAPI Engagement Allen Chen said in a statement.
The GOP, on the other hand, is sticking to its messaging around bread-and-butter issues, hoping voters will be motivated by rising inflation and the economy.
“People are living paycheck to paycheck , especially in the Asian American community, there’s a high percentage of small businesses affected by these high prices,” said Nainoa Johsens, the RNC’S director of Asian Pacific American media. “What we really see are the issues – economy, crime, things like that — those are the issues that resonate.”