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On Super Tuesday, Asian Americans in Texas Poised to Make a Difference

In Texas, a growing Asian-American population is prepared for Tuesday's primaries that could decide who the candidates will be come November 2016.
A sign points voters to where to cast ballots for the Republican nomination for president primary Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Aiken, S.C.Todd Bennett / AP

Hillary Clinton was busy winning in South Carolina on Saturday, so Asian Americans in Texas had to settle for a world famous ice skating champ.

As early voting ended Friday in the Lone Star State, Michelle Kwan, who signed on to join the Clinton campaign last June, was brought in to rally Asian Americans and show them it doesn’t take an Olympian effort to get out and vote on Super Tuesday.

“We’ve been asking the campaign to send someone like Michelle to Houston so that people can somewhat relate to her celebrity and emphasize the importance of the Asian-American community,” Gordon Quan, an immigration lawyer based in Houston, told NBC News.

Michelle Kwan (center) stands next to Texas State Rep. Gene Wu at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Houston, Texas, Feb. 26, 2016.
Michelle Kwan (center) stands next to Texas State Rep. Gene Wu at a rally for Hillary Clinton in Houston, Texas, Feb. 26, 2016.Courtesy of Gordon Quan

Quan, 67, said he was a Clinton backer because the White House under President Bill Clinton was active in reaching out to include Asian Americans in his administration. Quan said the heavily Democratic Asian-American community was following suit.

Quan himself is also somewhat of a local political celebrity. He was the first Asian American to be voted at-large to the Houston City Council in 2000. He served three terms, including one as vice-mayor. Over time, Quan said he's seen Houston grow to more than 2 million people, 6 percent of whom are Asian American. The Census data also notes that the Asian population in the entire state of Texas has grown: in 2010, the Asian population was recorded as 3.8 percent of the state's population; in 2014, 4.5 percent.

But along with population growth, Quan has also observed the political fights become even more intense.

“Redistricting has been contentious because Republicans have had to consolidate rural districts,” Quan told NBC News. “To keep control, they’re battling in the cities that have been traditionally more liberal, and now more Asian,” Quan said.

Gordon Quan campaigns for Hillary Clinton
Gordon Quan says most Asian Americans in Houston remember President Bill Clinton's outreach to the Asian-American community.Courtesy of Gordon Quan

RELATED: Asian-American Organizers Say Their Votes Helped Clinton Secure Nevada Win

As the second Asian American to be elected to the Houston City Council, and the first to hold an at-large position, Quan helped pave the way for others like Chinese-American state legislator Gene Wu and Hubert Vo, the first and only Vietnamese American to be elected to the Texas legislature.

The Quan family influence also extends to other aspects of public life. His sister, Dr. Beverly Gor, is one of the co-founders of the Hope Clinic. As a federal community health clinic, it targets underserved Asian Americans, and also aims to help register voters in the community.

Beyond the current issues of the day, Quan’s brother-in-law Ed Gor prefers to mention history to Asian-American voters as reason to vote.

Gor is one of the founders of the nonpartisan Asian American Coalition. He’s also national president of the Chinese American Citizens Alliance, an organization that was founded in 1895.

Gor reminds people how Chinese Americans at the turn of the century were often denied a vote.

“I tell people when they vote, they are voting for two people, yourself and the guys in the 1800 [and] 1900s who didn’t get a chance to vote,” he told NBC News. “That should tell you how important it is every time you go to the polls.”

Quan says getting Asian Americans to vote in Texas on Tuesday will be important to garner the night's biggest prize: 251 delegates for the Democrats, 155 for Republicans. (The total delegates up for grabs from all states voting on Tuesday total 1,610 combined.)

RELATED: New Super PAC Launches, Aims to Increase Asian-American Votes

“If Hillary gets 85 percent of the vote in any given legislative district, she gets all the delegates there,” Quan said, noting that even though votes are split up proportionately, a massive win individual districts can make those districts “winner take all."

It’s an incentive to try to make it a massive win for Clinton.

Quan said he hasn’t noticed Sen. Bernie Sanders with much of an outreach to Asian Americans in Texas. But he said Sanders’ candidacy has helped Clinton articulate the issues. “It’s not a coronation this way,” Quan said. “She gets battle tested.”

Image: Democratic Presidential Candidates Hillary Clinton And Bernie Sanders Debate In Durham, New Hampshire
Democratic presidential candidates former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during their MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate at the University of New Hampshire on February 4, 2016 in Durham, New Hampshire. This is the final debate for the Democratic candidates before the New Hampshire primaries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

For Republicans, Martha Wong — the first Asian American to be elected by district to the Houston City Council in 1993, and then the first Asian-American woman elected to the State House of Representatives — told NBC News to look for Texas to surprise on Tuesday.

Wong, 77, born and raised in Houston and president of the Texas Asian Republican Assembly, was at the University of Houston for the contentious GOP debate last week, sitting close to her friends, former First Lady Barbara Bush and President George H.W. Bush.

While disappointed that Jeb Bush has dropped out of the Republican race for president, Wong, who is also a key member of the Texas Asian Republican Club, said she's planning to support Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.

“We expect him to do well,” Wong told NBC News. “He won’t win. But you’ll be surprised.”

Image: Marco Rubio Holds Campaign Rally In Atlanta Ahead Of Super Tuesday
Joined on the stage with South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) addresses supporters during a campaign rally at the Intercontinental Buckhead Hotel in Atlanta, Ga., on February 29, 2016.Jessica McGowan / Getty Images

RELATED: Can Texas Republicans Bring Asian America into GOP Tent?

Wong said Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and frontrunner Donald Trump may be running one and two in the polls now, but she said the news exposing things about Trump — referring to stories about Trump's taxes, his hiring practices, and Trump University — “will make a difference” and turn people away from him.

And, she said, as a member of Rubio’s leadership team in the state, her group was focused on reducing Cruz’s lead. “The elected officials who are supporting Rubio know Cruz intimately and we will not support him,” Wong said.

But Cruz can count among his supporters Andy Nguyen, a Tarrant County Commissioner in the Fort Worth area. “I know him personally,” Nguyen told NBC News. “He’s always been very responsive to the needs of the community I serve.”

Image: Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz
From left, Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Republican presidential candidate, businessman Donald Trump and Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speak and gesture during a Republican presidential primary debate at The University of Houston, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016, in Houston.David J. Phillip / AP

RELATED: As Asian-American Electorate Grows, GOP Aims to Turn Local Wins National

Nguyen, who said he expects voter turnout on Tuesday to be "higher than usual," names Rubio as his second choice for the nomination, though he said he prefers Cruz because "Senator Cruz is more consistent."

Nguyen added, however, that he was certain he would not vote for Trump.

“A lot of things are popular. It doesn’t make it right,” Nguyen said. “I think Mr. Trump's style and demeanor, his lack of substance, his hurling of insults is demeaning to this country and the status of the presidency. I’m an immigrant. I remember the times when my family and I prayed to God to allow us to be able to resettle in the United States. The United States was something that was sacred, valuable, something we treasure. And I think that Mr. Trump, his leadership style is divisive and demeaning to the values of this country. We can do better.”

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