Immigrants Have Growing Role in Va. Politics

Kali Schumitz, Fairfax County Times, June 23, 2009

Candidates campaigning in Virginia would be well advised to pay attention to the growing Asian and Latino communities here, according to recent analyses of the immigrant vote.

New Americans–naturalized citizens and the U.S.-born children of immigrants–now make up about 6.4 percent of the total voting population in Virginia, according to research by the Immigration Policy Center that was published last week.

That figure is even higher in Northern Virginia: about 12.5 to 18.5 percent of the voting-age population in the 8th, 10th and 11th Congressional Districts comprises naturalized citizens, according to the study, which was based on Census data.

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Former attorney general Bob McDonnell, the Republican candidate, has been featured in Chinese-American newspapers, appeared on Vietnamese-American television, spoken on Korean-American radio and attended roundtables with Hispanic community leaders, according to campaign spokeswoman Crystal Cameron.

“This campaign is extremely active in every immigrant community in Northern Virginia because we are all Virginians, we are all in this together, and Bob McDonnell’s policies will make life better for all citizens of Virginia,” Cameron said.

Most of the immigrant voters in Virginia are trending toward the Democratic Party now, according to exit polling data from the November 2008 presidential elections.

Four of the five major Asian ethnicities in Virginia voted heavily for President Barack Obama last year, according to exit polling data from the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, also released last week. The nonprofit surveyed 1,148 Asian-American voters, both naturalized citizens and U.S. born, in eight precincts in the state, including five in Northern Virginia.

Vietnamese-Americans and older Koreans tend to be the most conservative, according to Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney with the Fund. Indians vote almost exclusively Democratic, while Chinese tend to be swing voters.

With proper outreach, it is possible for either party to gain the immigrant vote, experts say. For example, Sen. Jim Webb (D) won much of the Vietnamese vote because his wife, Hong Le Webb, is Vietnamese.

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Candidates who try to use illegal immigration policy as a wedge issue, typically Republicans, tend to lose both in the immigrant communities and the election overall, according to America’s Voice, which has tracked races in which immigration was a major election issue.

A candidate’s stance on illegal immigration is a litmus test for many immigrants, particularly Latino immigrants, Setsaf said. Many Latinos in the United Sates are from “mixed status” families, and if they aren’t undocumented they know someone who is, she said.

There is no reason why Republicans can’t win the Latino vote, Setsaf added. “Hispanics are traditional and conservative in many ways. [Republicans] have got to be more sensible on immigration.”

Reaching out to immigrant communities was a key part of Virginia Democrats’ campaign strategy in Northern Virginia last year, said Jared Leopold, a spokesman for state Sen. Creigh Deeds’ campaign for governor and a former Virginia Democratic Party spokesman.

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“We feel strongly that if candidates want the Asian American vote, to some extent they need to work for the Asian-American vote, and that includes people who don’t speak much English.” Magpantay [Glenn Magpantay, staff attorney with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund] said.

Sidebar

Asian American Vote

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education fund performed an exit poll survey of 1,148 Asian-American voters at eight precincts in Virginia during the November 2008 presidential elections.

All Virginia respondents–33% for McCain, 66% for Obama

Koreans–37% for McCain, 61% for Obama

Vietnamese–61% for McCain, 36% for Obama

Indian–10% for McCain, 90% for Obama

Chinese–31% for McCain, 68% for Obama

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