Posted on November 4, 2022

GOP Works to Win Over Asian Americans – And Draws ‘Race-Baiting’ Charges

Hannah Knowles, Washington Post, November 2, 2022

The mailers showed Democrat Jay Chen as a teacher in a Communist classroom, surrounded by a Chinese flag and an array of posters tapping into the conservative backlash against schools’ handling of race and gender. There were interlocking symbols for male and female; a clenched fist emblematic of the Black Lives Matter movement; and an “equity” sign with a Black child raised above their peers.

“Jay Chen invited China into our children’s classes,” a blackboard read in Vietnamese. It was emblematic of the bitter debate over GOP tactics in California’s 45th Congressional District — an Orange County battleground at the heart of Republicans’ efforts to chip away at Democrats’ clear advantage with Asian American voters nationwide.

Republicans are targeting their message to this fast-growing group that turned out like never before in 2020 and favored Democrats by a wide margin, though less comfortably than in the past by some measures. In mailers and TV ads, GOP groups and candidates have tailored broad criticisms of crime, schools and left-wing politics to an Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community rattled by anti-Asian assaults, divided over affirmative action and full of immigrants whose families fled communism.

In reaching out to one minority group, however, Republicans have fueled complaints that they are pitting racial and ethnic communities against one another. One organization that supports Asian Americans in government recently accused Rep. Michelle Steel (R) of stoking “interracial hatred” and “interethnic conflict” with her campaign against Chen. Allegations of racism have flown from both sides.

Republicans increasingly see Asian Americans as part of their electoral coalition, two years after President Donald Trump made modest gains with the group despite his continued anti-Asian rhetoric. That was the same year two Korean American Republicans — Steel and Young Kim — flipped their Orange County House seats red, as many Asian American neighborhoods shifted to the right. And conservatives are buoyed by election results this year in San Francisco, where about a third of residents are Asian American and where voters recalled several liberal school board members and a prosecutor criticized as too lenient.

Nadia Belkin, the executive director of Asian American Power Network, a left-leaning coalition of state-based groups that is spending $10 million this fall to turn out Asian Americans in California and swing states, conceded that Republicans’ messaging on issues such as education and public safety “is pulling the Asian American community towards them” and in some cases making Asian Americans “feel seen in a way that progressives have not.”

But she was sharply critical of the strategy some on the right are employing. “Republicans are not shy about using this really divisive, race-baiting language to try and court us,” Belkin said.

Belkin pointed to Asian American voters in California and across the country receiving mailers claiming that the political left is “engaged in widespread racial discrimination against WHITE and ASIAN Americans” and that “equity is a code word” for excluding certain groups from jobs, college admissions and government benefits. The mailers are from America First Legal, a conservative nonprofit led by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller that has also been running radio ads in Georgia on “racism against White people.”

“We are simply educating the American people about attempts from big government, big business, and big education to discriminate based on race,” America First Legal’s vice president, Gene Hamilton, said in a statement, pointing to this week’s arguments in a Supreme Court case that could block colleges from considering race in applications.

Another conservative group with overlapping leadership, Citizens for Sanity — one of the top spenders last month in the midterm elections — released an ad with graphic footage of physical attacks on Asian Americans. The ad blames the Biden administration and other Democrats for anti-Asian violence, saying they have been soft on crime.


The recall this summer of Chesa Boudin, a liberal district attorney in San Francisco, also underscored some Asian Americans’ desire for a tougher response to crime.


Beyond their message on crime, education and the economy, Republicans attribute their success here to their candidates and concrete investments. At a canvassing launch one Saturday morning, Steel’s husband ticked through the seven languages her campaign was using to contact voters: “Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, Tagalog … ” Addressing a gaggle of mostly high school students, Shawn Steel framed their work as part of a broader project for the GOP.

This race would “show the Republican Party how to reach out and get new communities that they haven’t been able to get before,” he said, in front of bright orange signs promising that his wife would “Create Jobs!” and “Lower Taxes!” {snip}

Nationally, the data on political shifts among Asian Americans is mixed. Exit polling from 2020 showed Asian American voters moving toward Trump by seven points compared with 2016 — but they still supported Biden by a 27-point margin. Christine Chen, executive director of the nonpartisan group Asian Pacific Islander American Vote, noted that exit polling is rarely conducted in languages beyond English and Spanish, limiting its ability to capture the Asian American community.

Her group’s multilingual polling shows the share of Asian Americans who identify as Republican ticking down this year after rising slightly in 2018 and 2020.


Asian Americans make up about 6 percent of the country but more than a fifth of Orange County, according to census data, and Asian Americans make up nearly 38 percent of registered voters in the district where Chen and Steel are competing, according to analytics used by Democrats. That includes many Vietnamese Americans, who have long leaned more conservative than voters of other Asian heritages.


Republicans say their tough-on-crime message could have particular resonance across the country, with voters fearful after a string of assaults on Asian Americans — and Steel talks often about her opposition to “soft-on-crime” policies. But most prominently, Steel has echoed Republicans across the country warning of “indoctrination” in schools, leaning heavily into a message she also used in 2020 — trying to tie her opponent to communism.


Lanhee Chen, a GOP candidate for state controller in California who joined Steel for a canvassing kickoff, said comments like Trump’s make the GOP’s outreach to Asian Americans “considerably harder.”

“It’s remarkably damaging,” said the former policy director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, shaking his head outside Steel’s campaign office when asked about the “Coco Chow” remarks.