Why Orange County politicians are vying for the Asian American vote

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While the general population in Orange County grew by only six percent between 2000 and 2010, the Asian American population grew by 41 percent. As the midterm election approaches, politicians in Orange County are vying for that Asian American vote.

KCRW headed to Orange County where she spent time with Young Kim, the Republican candidate for California’s 39th Congressional District. A Korean immigrant who worked and raised her family in Orange County, Kim ran a small business, served a term in the California State Assembly, and then worked as a staffer for Republican congressman Ed Royce for two decades. Royce has decided to step down from his seat and has given Kim his endorsement.

Many of the voters in Kim’s district are immigrants like her, a fact, she says, that helps her connect immediately. Many are business owners who are concerned about taxes and maintaining a climate that is hospitable to business. They care about their kids getting a good education, and, as immigrants, they care about international relations.

Kim hopes her message will cross party lines to reach Asian American Democrats, a reasonable prospect according to some experts. Sara Sadhwani, a voting analyst at USC, looked at the 2016 presidential election and found that Asian Americans in three Orange County congressional districts supported Hillary Clinton, but voted to keep the Republican incumbents in place.

Posters at Young Kim’s Rowland Heights field office. (Photo by Jenny Hamel) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

That’s good news for Orange County Republicans fighting to hold onto Congress as Democrats attempt a blue wave takeover in November. Typically, Asian American voters in Orange County have leaned Republican. Both parties know that they need this voting bloc to win these districts.

Democrats are working hard to reach the same voters with a different message. Harley Rouda is the Democrat hoping to unseat incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher in coastal Orange County. Rouda’s priority is courting the large Vietnamese community in his district, which he says has been long underserved. He says human rights and health care are among their top issues, and he believes the midterm election will be a referendum on the president.

Sylvia Kim, the Orange County regional director with Asian Americans Advancing Justice, says that while the Asian American population is growing, historically, Asian Americans haven’t been as politically active as other groups in the area. “In terms of civic engagement,” she says, “the potential of the population is still yet to be seen.” She reminds us that although there is going to be an increase in civic engagement among Asian Americans, a lot of that that voting potential will not be seen for some time.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of political mobilization among the younger generations, and that is especially true on the Democratic side. So, even if Orange County doesn’t turn blue this November, Democrats won’t be giving up here any time soon.