New America Media, News Report, Kenneth Kim, Posted: Feb 07, 2008
Editor’s Note: Asian Americans flexed their muscle on Super Tuesday, and emerged as a swing voter bloc in California, where Asian American voters make up 8 percent of the Democratic electorate, reports NAM staff writer Kenneth Kim.
Asian Americans are about 8 percent of the Democratic voters but might have emerged as the new swing vote that helped Hillary Clinton win California. According to a CNN exit poll, about 75 percent of Asian voters cast their ballots for Clinton compared to 23 percent for Obama. In the days leading up to Super Tuesday, Obama had narrowed Clinton’s lead to such an extent that the Asian vote suddenly became pivotal though there was very little advertising in Asian media. With Asians throwing their support behind her, Clinton carried 54 percent of the Democratic electorate in the Golden State, leading Obama by 14 percent in the state and significantly increasing her delegate count.
“Overwhelming Asian support is not surprising,” says David Lee, the executive director of Chinese American Voters’ Education Committee (CAVEC), a non-partisan group in San Francisco. “She invested in building a good relationship with the Asian American community. In contrast, Obama refused to answer questions regarding the advancement of Asian Americans.”
The 80-20 Initiative, a political action committee dedicated to winning equal opportunity and justice for all Asian Americans through a swing bloc vote, asked all presidential candidates to answer the following questions last year: If elected, are you going to increase the number of Asian Americans in the federal judiciary? Are you going to enforce executive order 11246 to ensure equal opportunity for Asian Americans in work places?
Clinton and John Edwards committed to promote Asian American interests by answering yes to all of the questions, but none of the Republican candidates replied. Surprisingly, Obama declined as well. According to the 80-20 Initiative’s website, Obama replied Yes to the questions only after the group modified the wording of two questions about appointing Asian Americans as federal judges. By then the group had already endorsed Clinton for the Super Tuesday primaries.
Obama did galvanize a younger generation of voters. Indian-American actor Kal Penn of “Harold and Kumar” fame campaigned for him and the group South Asians for Obama campaigned for the Illinois senator at Bhangra parties and Bollywood dances. Little India Magazine broke with tradition and endorsed Obama before the primary, saying he was “the son of an immigrant, offers an exciting opportunity to take Americans, men and women, of all races and affiliations, to an exciting new place and time.”
But others in the Asian American community credit Clinton for effectively utilizing her institutional strength in her campaign.
Vivian Truong Gia, publisher of Viet Tribune, says she got to interview Hillary Clinton while Obama did little outreach to Asian Americans. Though the Vietnamese community traditionally votes Republican, many broke ranks to vote for Clinton, says Truong, because “we want America to be strong again and are disappointed with the last eight years. China has become dominant and the United States so weak overseas.” She thinks that if Obama actually secures the nomination many of those who voted for Clinton would end up voting for John McCain.
“Clinton began interacting with and reaching out to Asian community through her network in the community earlier than other presidential candidates,” says Dae Jung Yoon, executive director of Korean Resource Center, a non-profit organization actively engaged in Korean American’s political empowerment. “The head start was reinforced by her name recognition in the Asian American community and put her at an advantage.”
Chinese-language newspaper Sing Tao Daily also noted that many of this year’s Asian and Latino voters became naturalized U.S. citizens during the Clinton administrations between 1992 and 2000, and that Hillary Clinton helping her husband campaign for presidency years ago in the Asian community added to her positive recognition. Sing Tao also said Asian women were particularly anxious to vote for a woman as president.
The enthusiasm of these new voters was obvious, says Yoon at the Korean Resource Center. According to Yoon, between 7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., nearly 500 calls were made to the Korean hotline, a record-breaking number in its 13-year history, and more than 100 people with various questions visited the center. Most of the callers and visitors asked about the location of their polling place and ways to obtain provisional ballots.
“Our handful of staff was completely exhausted by the afternoon. I’ve never seen this level of interest in a primary election,” says Yoon.
Asians, currently 5 percent of the U.S. population, are often ignored as a small community that is not very politically engaged. But it is one of the fastest growing population groups in the country. By 2050, Asian Americans are expected to grow by 213 percent to 33.4 million from 14.4 million, according to the U.S. Census. The population is also becoming increasingly politically active. Weekly newspaper India West ran dueling op-eds in support of Clinton and Obama from Indian Americans before the primary. Vida Benavides, chair of APIAVote, a non-partisan organization promoting Asian civic engagement, said in a press release that Asian American voices “will definitely be heard in electing the next president of the United States.”
Despite Clinton’s California triumph, under rules that award 370 nominating delegates on a proportional basis, both candidates are still in a virtual delegate tie as the primaries move on to other states.
“It’s too premature to conclude that Asians made a difference because both parties still haven’t nominated their presidential candidates,” cautions CAVEC’s Lee. “However, this primary proved the possibility that when Asian Americans participate in the political process, they can make a difference.”
Andrew Lam, Sandip Roy and Jun Wang contributed to this report.