A national political group is expanding efforts to mobilize Asian American and Pacific Islander voters for the midterm elections, targeting three close congressional elections in Orange County and seeking small business to bolster support for the Democrats.
Justice Unites Us, a super PAC operated by AAPI Democrats, will focus on flipping the OC-centric inland seats of Republican Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel while concurrently holding Democratic Rep. Katie Porter in a mostly coastal district to protect.
As part of its multimillion-dollar national effort, the organization plans to open up small business hubs — grocery stores, dry cleaners, convenience stores — to reach voters.
Organizers will meet with owners to share why they’re trying to get the AAPI community to vote and ask if they’re willing to help the cause, Justice Unites Us said. They will ask the owners to present literature about the election – printed in multiple languages or the language most commonly used in the neighborhood – and use their influence with loyal customers to inform them about races.
The Super PAC’s approach is one that immigrant communities may be more receptive to, said Rep. Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat who volunteers Co-Chair of Justice Unites Us.
Lieu, a Taiwanese-American, cited his own upbringing, which included helping his family with their small business. They sold gifts and jewelry at flea markets until they could run six gift shops. He told how many people came in and walked by when he and his brother guarded one of the shops after school.
For Asian American residents in Orange County and elsewhere, “perhaps the best way to get their information is to talk to someone they know, or they’re talking to the owner they know at a local small business,” said lieu. “They’re chatting with another friend while they’re at a local small business that has a bunch of flyers for Jay Chen to take to the convention. They pick one up and see it in their language.”
Chen, a businessman, lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserves, and trustee of Mt. San Antonio College, challenges Steel in the newly delineated 45th congressional district, which includes the Asian-American hubs of Westminster, Cerritos, and Artesia. dr Asif Mahmood, a pulmonologist, vies with Kim in the 40th Precinct, which includes Rancho Santa Margarita and Aliso Viejo.
The Republican National Committee also takes stock of what motivates AAPI voters, such as setting up tables at gas stations to ask residents about their concerns. The committee’s presence in Orange County, where it opened an AAPI community center last year, is strongest in the state because of its “robust team,” said California RNC spokeswoman Hallie Balch.
Both major parties traditionally ignored these demographics until recently, when Orange County racing became more competitive and officials recognized the size and growth of this diverse population, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at UC Riverside.
According to the Pew Research Center, Asian Americans make up the fastest growing racial or ethnic group in the United States. In Orange County, home to one of the largest Asian American communities in the country, well over one-fifth of the population are AAPI according to the US census.
Noting the diversity of Orange County’s AAPI population, Minh Nguyen, executive director of Justice Unites Us, said, “If our constituents unite, not only can we help Democrats win two targeted races, we can potentially help our party to keep control of the house.”
In addition to partnering with businesses, the PAC will also focus on traditional doorknock and phone bank campaigns in its target areas, including Orange County.
Long a deep red Conservative stronghold, the county has turned increasingly purple in recent years. According to the nonpartisan California Target Book, a subscription-based service that provides detailed political campaign information, as of March, 37% of registered voters in the county were Democrats, compared to about 33% who were registered Republicans.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has pledged a seven-figure investment nationwide to mobilize AAPI voters a year before midterms. It plans to work with community leaders on outreach, conduct research into the needs of different sectors, and work to dispel disinformation on social media.
Justice Unites Us — which is prohibited from coordinating with campaigns under Political Action Committee rules — is also beginning its targeted outreach to key US Senate races in Arizona, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Georgia.
Significant investment and attention to AAPI voters helped Democrats narrowly sweep all seven OC congressional districts in 2018, Ramakrishnan said.
In 2020, Kim and Steel helped Republicans fight back the blue wave and retake two embattled congressional districts in Orange County. The women also made history as two of the first three Korean-American women elected to the US House of Representatives.
The next year, the RNC capitalized on the momentum and opened an Asia Pacific American community center in Little Saigon in Westminster.
The facility, which is also used as an RNC field office, has been used by residents to host dance classes, share meals together and play games, in addition to phone banking, Balch said.
The RNC also expanded the languages offered in outreach materials to include Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese, as well as Hindi and Spanish. This weekend, the RNC will host its first class at the center for those working toward citizenship, asking the kind of civics questions that appear on the citizenship test, Balch said. Participants also get help with English skills, she added.
“We have some of the most active volunteers who start out from this office,” she said. “The ground game is really strong. There are people who knock on doors every day, do banking several times a week, and there are always door openings on the weekends.”
As the campaigns begin to prepare, Ramakrishnan predicts that AAPI voters could once again help turn red districts blue again, largely due to hate crime concerns.
He’s fascinated to see how Justice Unites Us’ approach will impact businesses in the county.
“Traditionally, these ethnic companies have not released partisan literature,” Ramakrishnan said. “It will be interesting to see if some of this is more of a partisan message of sorts – how much these ethnic business owners will let this happen because they don’t necessarily want to alienate their customer base. So I think they have to get creative in how to include these people.”
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-08-12/political-group-taps-small-business-owners-in-orange-county-to-help-capture-asian-american-vote Orange County Asian American Pacific Island midterm voters