Republicans are redoubling outreach to Asian American voters who, according to the party, are a natural fit with conservative values that are pro-family, pro-small business and pro-police.
It’s part of an ongoing campaign to diversify the party. The effort has brought more minorities into the GOP, though Democrats still hold an advantage with minority groups.
One place where the GOP is making inroads is in an Asian American neighborhood in Atlanta, where the Republican National Committee opened one of its community centers that offer dance classes, potlucks, pastor roundtables and Korean language Tax Day preparation while providing an introduction to the Republican agenda.
Rick Desai, who volunteers at the center, said former President Donald Trump convinced him that the GOP cared about India.
“For me, being of Indian descent, that was very significant,” he said in an interview. “Given the fact that Kamala Harris is half Indian, her lack of interest in those things that matter to India, building a closer tie to the largest democracy in the world, I think it is disturbing and concerning to a lot of folks.”
The GOP is mobilizing voters through a nationwide network of cultural community centers to connect with Hispanic, Black and Asian voters.
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The party has four centers dedicated to Asian American outreach, including one that opened this month in Las Vegas.
The RNC also is conducting a series of voter-registration drives in Asian American communities across the country in March to mark Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
Supporting the outreach efforts are three Republican members of Congress who are Asian Americans: Rep. Young Kim of California, Rep. Michelle Steel of California and Del. Amata Radewagen who represents American Samoa as a non-voting delegate in the House.
Mrs. Steel said that expanding the conservative movement into Asian American communities has been a decades-long goal of hers, and she credited GOP outreach efforts with driving her success.
“The Asian American community is a very closed community, and they speak their own language, but this time we are really getting into [the communities], which I’ve been working on for the last 30 years,” Mrs. Steel said. “We did a lot of GOP forums. We thought out every convention, bringing in minority community leaders and asking them to participate, and that’s the reason Young Kim and I won.”
In 2020, Mrs. Steel and Mrs. Kim, along with Rep. Marilyn Strickland, Washington Democrat, became the first three Korean women to serve in Congress.
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“As one of the first Korean American women to serve in Congress, and as a proud conservative, I am working to ensure we continue to grow our party and protect our freedoms,” Mrs. Kim said.
Despite the GOP’s marginal increases, Democrats still have an edge in Asian American representation and voter support.
Exit polls showed that former Vice President Joe Biden received 63% of the Asian American vote in 2020, compared to Mr. Trump who got 31%.
Overall, turnout by Asian American voters increased 10% in the 2020 election, ticking up to 59.5% from 49.3% in 2014, according to census data.
Indian Americans and Japanese Americans reported the largest turnout increase at 71% and 66%, respectively.
Korean Americans had a 15% increase from 2016 to 2020, going from 45% turnout to 60%.
Filipinos had the lowest turnout rate but still showed a modest uptick in overall turnout in 2020.
Democrats have blunted the GOP outreach at times, including blaming Mr. Trump and other Republicans for Asian hate crimes they say are spurred by rhetoric linking the coronavirus to China.
“For over a year, xenophobic slurs like ‘China virus’ and ‘Kung flu’ have been terrorizing Asian American communities across the country with thousands of anti-Asian hate crimes and incidents,” said Rep. Judy Chu, California Democrat who chairs the Asian Pacific American Caucus.
Democrats, however, also have been hit with accusations of using anti-Asian rhetoric and accusations the Democratic Party sweeps offensive remarks by its candidates under the rug.
A video recently surfaced of Democratic candidate Jay Chen, who is vying for Mrs. Steel’s seat in this year’s elections, appearing to mock his rival’s accent.
Mr. Chen is heard on the video saying Mrs. Steel needed a translator to be understood, while in other videos, he accused her of being “very incoherent” and parroting talking points from her husband.
Mrs. Steel has demanded an apology.
Mr. Chen denied the statements were anti-Asian and accused Mrs. Steel and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, of “slinging false and hateful attacks.”
In an op-ed in the Orange County Register, Mr. Chen said that his parents were immigrants and that Mrs. Steel distorted the video clips for political gain.
“Congresswoman Steel is lying to her constituents once again because it’s the only way she can get ahead,” Mr. Chen wrote. “In that 13-second clip weaponized by the Steel campaign and right-wing outlets, I referred to a written transcript of Steel’s record of flip-flopping and feeding constituents convoluted talking points instead of the truth – not any kind of audible accent.”