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Republicans working to appeal more to Asian voters

November 25, 2018

The GOP nightmare in Southern California closed out last week with Young Kim falling just shy of becoming the first Korean-American elected to Congress.

After a protracted counting, Ms. Kim was about 6,000 votes short of Democratic candidate Gil Cisneros and conceded her race, officially wiping out the last GOP-held seat in once-Republican dominated Orange County.

Mrs. Kim had been a key part of the GOP’s strategy to compete in the area, with party leaders figuring they could shed their “old white male” image and appeal to the surging Asian-American community.

Louis Desipio, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine, said those plans were severely dented by the results.

“In the Trump era, and particularly in the midterms, the trend we have seen with Asian-Americans being solid Democrat voters was confirmed,” he said. “I think we saw that in a couple of the congressional races where the Asian-American electorate voted Democratic despite the fact you had a Republican Asian-American candidate.”

Mrs. Kim’s loss was particularly bitter for Republicans in and around Orange County who have worked to recruit Asian-American candidates and have had success getting, among others, candidates elected to local and state offices from the area’s Taiwanese, Korean and Vietnamese communities.

But Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee, said Mrs. Kim’s race wasn’t a good test, saying Mr. Cisneros won because he and his allies pumped massive amounts of cash into the race.

“If we had Mother Teresa for a candidate, she would have lost,” Mr. Steel said.

Mrs. Kim would have been the first Republican member of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus since former Rep. Joseph Cao of Louisiana, a Vietnamese-American who served a single term and lost re-election in 2010 election. About 15 current Democrats have Asian ancestry.

Having made few inroads among black voters and struggling to compete among Hispanics, Republicans had been counting on a better performance among Asian-Americans.

Polling, though, suggests Asian-Americans, who account for about 4 percent of all voters, have been drifting away from the GOP.

The Pew Research Center has been tracking the community’s voting patterns for 20 years. In 1998 they found 53 percent of Asian-Americans identified as Democrats, compared to 33 percent who called themselves Republicans. Today 65 percent call themselves Democrats, and just 27 percent say they side with the GOP.

That tracks stunningly close to this year’s elections where, according to Fox News’ election voter analysis, a compilation of polling of 140,000 people in 47 states in the week leading up to the election, 67 percent of Asian-Americans backed a Democrat in their state’s key race, while just 27 percent voted for a Republican.

Christine Chen, executive director of Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, a non-partisan group, said the community is moving toward Democrats’ messages on health care, immigration and gun control.

“Where the Republicans are doing a little bit better is around national security, and jobs and the economy, but even then Democrats are neck and neck or a little bit better than them,” said Ms. Chen, whose group conducts its own polling.

Still, Ms. Chen said that a large number of Asian-American voters still don’t identify with either party. And she said roughly half said they never got any outreach from Democrats or Republicans heading into this year’s elections.

“They are still not doing enough to engage this growing electorate,” she said.

President Trump’s presidential victory in 2016 and the GOP’s ability to hold the House in the four previous elections suggests that changing demographics don’t spell automatic doom for Republicans in elections.

But Mr. Desipio said it is going to catch up with them eventually.

“This election, the GOP’s bench, if you will, the face they are presenting to the nation became more white, and more male,” Mr. Desipio said. “Republicans can’t lose all of the minority communities in the United States and still be a viable party in the 2020s.”

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