As Republicans look to make a strong showing in local, state and federal races this year, more than 70 people met one day in February at a family-owned Chinese restaurant in Queens, New York — and not just to eat.
The participants, almost all of them Chinese American, were attending training as part of the Republican Leadership Initiative, which arms community leaders with tools to mobilize support for GOP candidates in their communities, according to Miki Carver, a press secretary with the Republican National Committee.
It was held in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York City’s largest borough, where roughly 1 in 4 residents identify as Asian.
During this cycle, the GOP has trained more than 12,000 leadership fellows, Carver said. Among them are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, part of an electorate that is expected to double in size by 2040.
“These fellows really grow the party’s presence and just really get our message out there,” Carver said.
For this year’s midterm elections, Nevada, Southern California, New Jersey and Virginia could be important battlegrounds in congressional races for Asian-American votes, according to Karthick Ramakrishnan, a public policy professor at the University of California, Riverside.
Texas, Florida, New Jersey and Nevada also have Senate races where Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters could affect the outcome, he said.
Republicans appeared to make gains in 2014 because of more investment by the GOP and more enthusiasm among Republican voters, including Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, according to Ramakrishnan.
In that year, 50 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who responded to the National Election Pool exit poll voted for a Republican house candidate, compared to 49 percent who chose a Democratic one.
"Generally speaking, when you have a party out of power for a considerable period of time, like Republicans were, you'll have more enthusiasm among the base in terms of trying to regain power," Ramakrishnan said.
“So many conservative values are reflected in the conservative values of Asian and Pacific Islander voters — those values of entrepreneurship, of hard work, and some of that kind of bootstraps mentality,” Wong said.
We provide this RLI training that focuses on the nitty-gritty and very basics of political organizing — this is how you hold a meeting, this is how you turn that meeting into a productive output of talking to voters
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Outreach, he said, includes walking people through the process of being involved politically and civically.
The Republican Leadership Initiative, Wong added, also plays a role.
“We provide this RLI training that focuses on the nitty-gritty and very basics of political organizing — this is how you hold a meeting, this is how you turn that meeting into a productive output of talking to voters, going door-to-door,” Wong said.
Carver said the RNC has a long-standing rule not to get involved in primaries. Wong noted that the bylaws of the state party also require it to remain neutral during the primary process and run-offs.
Meanwhile, some Asian-American GOP organizers who mobilized voters to help send President Donald Trump to the White House are already at work across the country, gearing up for the 2018 elections.
As for outreach, Li and Wang said technology and data both play an important role.
Mobile canvassing apps are one example. These generally allow door knockers and people in the field to log visits with voters, and the data can then be shared with the party.
Li also said he designed an app called Power Voter, which, among other things, allows users to look up candidates running in a variety of races, including local, state and federal.
There’s also WeChat, a social media app developed by Chinese internet company Tencent. Li said he had used it to rally support for former Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, and Wang for Trump.
Earlier, WeChat had proven effective in mobilizing Chinese-American immigrants, in particular, to protest issues or incidents that Wang said he believes are responsible for a recent trend of Chinese conservatism.
After using WeChat to fuel the Chinese-Americans for Trump movement, Wang said these days he can go on any number of his WeChat groups and quickly mobilize volunteers to help out when needed.
“For example, if we want to do an airplane banner in California, I would go to my southern California Chinese-Americans for Trump group, there’s like a bunch, and I’ll ask them, 'Hey, who wants to do this?'” Wang explained.
“People would write, ‘me, me, me, me, me,’ and then we’re going to get everybody involved,” he said. “We post the time and date, let’s do it. Very, very simple.”
Chinese Americans are indeed a voting group to watch since their support for the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, appeared to wane compared to President Barack Obama in 2012.
This is important, Ramakrishnan said, because Chinese Americans make up the largest segment of the Asian-American vote.
To be sure, available data show that Clinton prevailed over Trump with Asian-American and Pacific Islander voters.
Moreover, a leftward shift has also been afoot among Asian-American registered voters since 2012, according to findings from a Spring 2016 report released by nonprofits APIAVote and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, along with AAPI Data, a program led by Ramakrishnan.