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Rhode Island Could Elect Its First Asian-American Governor

Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial nominee Allan Fung addresses supporters during a primary election night watch party Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Warwick, R.I. Gretchen Ertl / AP

The smallest state in the country could have one of the biggest gubernatorial races of 2014.

How high profile is the Rhode Island Governor's race? Both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama made campaign stops on behalf of Democratic candidate, and current Rhode Island State Treasurer, Gina Raimondo last week and former Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney endorsed Republican candidate Allan Fung, the mayor of Cranston.

For Fung, the race could be monumental.

Image: Allan Fung
Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial nominee Allan Fung addresses supporters during a primary election night watch party Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, in Warwick, R.I. Gretchen Ertl / AP

In a state not known for its racial diversity, Allan Fung has the chance to become Rhode Island's first Asian-American governor. In fact, he could become only the sixth Asian American governor nationwide.

"For me it would be monumental," Fung said in an interview with NBCNews.com. "It was very historic that I was the first Asian-American mayor of Cranston."

Fung is proud that he was "able to break the glass ceiling" politically "so that the next person and the next generation can get more involved in politics."

"Being Asian and part of the community for so many years, people knew me growing up"

A recent poll from Brown University shows that Fung could breakdown yet another barrier and make it to the governor's house. The race is in a dead heat between Raimondo and Fung, with third party candidate Robert Healey taking 12 percent of the vote.

Only 3.3 percent of Rhode Island's population is Asian American, well below the national average, but Fung got his start in politics in the more diverse city of Cranston.

Midterm elections loom large for voters 2:47

He was first elected to serve as a councilman, where Asian Americans make up 5.2 percent of the population. Today he is serving his third term as Cranston mayor.

"Being Asian and part of the community for so many years, people knew me growing up," said Fung, who started working in his parents' Chinese restaurant at the age of nine.

Rhode Island could be described as a politically-mixed state. The state hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1990 yet its entire congressional delegation is comprised of Democrats. President Obama won 63 percent of the vote in both 2008 and 2012. All of this may be why Fung has described himself as a "Rhode Island Republican" -- moderate, but fiscally conservative.

Image: Chris Christie, Allan Fung
Chairman of the Republican Governors Association and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses members of the media with Cranston Mayor and Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung while Christie campaigns for Fung Friday, Oct. 10, 2014 in Johnston, R.I. Stephan Savoia / AP

Fung says he is "pro choice" and had to raise taxes his first three years in office.

"The first three years [as mayor] I inherited a fiscal mess," says Fung, who took over the role during the "Great Recession."

"There were multiple years of funding cuts from the state. Raising tax rates were a last resort," said Fung, pointing out that one he felt the ship had been "righted," the city did not raise taxes during the last three years of his tenure.

"It's about educating our party about the culture and showing up, and not just showing up there at election time, but showing up all the time."

While his brand of conservatism may not work in Red States, Fung was part of a sitting committee for the Republican National Committee's "Growth and Opportunity Project," the so-called Republican "autopsy" post-2012, and he knows well some of the problems his party has with Asian-American voters.

Fung makes it clear, though, that he's not running as an "Asian American", rather he's running just as the candidate.

"To me its not something I'm really pushing. I don't make the point that I'm Asian American or I'd be the first Asian-American governor," said Fung. "It's more than that, Rhode Islanders are having a hard time."

If Fung wins on Tuesday, his brand of conservatism and outreach could provide guidance for National Republicans and their attempts to broaden the tent, both with voters and candidates.

"It's about educating our party about the culture and showing up," said Fung "and not just showing up there at election time, but showing up all the time."

Image: Mitt Romney
Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney stands next to Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial candidate Allan Fung as they address reporter's during a media availability Thursday Oct. 16, 2014 in Providence, RI. Jennifer McDermott / AP