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In Texas GOP Race, Trump Has Some Asian-American Appeal

Nghi Ho, a 49-year-old Vietnamese-American business owner and elected official, submitted his vote for Donald Trump early in the Texas primary.
Voters enter an official polling location on Super Tuesday, March 1, 2016, in Dallas, Texas. Americans began voting in the crucial Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses in what is deemed the most critical day in the presidential nominating process. A total of 12 states from Alabama to Alaska are holding primaries or caucuses on March 1, with frontrunners Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump hoping to finish off their challengers.LAURA BUCKMAN / AFP - Getty Images

As Sen. Ted Cruz tries to beat businessman Donald Trump in what appears to be one of the closer GOP Super Tuesday races in Texas, Nghi Ho is relaxing in paradise — and hoping for a Trump victory.

Ho, 49, is a leading member of the Texas Asian Republican Caucus, a financial services business owner, and a current five-term school board member in Houston’s heavily-Asian community of Alief. Ho told NBC News he took advantage of last week’s early voting, and is spending this Super Tuesday in Hawaii with his wife Agnes — who is supporting Sen. Marco Rubio — as they celebrate their 25th anniversary.

“We have good discussions,” Nghi Ho said of he and his wife's differing opinions.

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Nghi Ho is a five-term member of the Alief School Board in Harris County, Texas. A Vietnamese refugee who came to America in 1975, Ho served as a lieutenant in the Navy in the first Gulf War and is a Trump supporter.Courtesy of Nghi Ho

“[Trump’s] like myself, I guess,” he said. “We’re pretty much outspoken, tell it like it is, not very politically correct and business owners. So he knows how tough it is out here. You hire people. He’s in the trenches. He’s on a bigger scale than most of us people. I think he’s been there before. He’s been bankrupt or near bankrupt. He works within the laws and built up his company.”

Ho added that he genuinely likes Trump — both the man and his message.

“Right now, there’s a lot of us out here who hate both the Democrats and the Republicans, both the left and the right,” Ho said. “We need a leader. Not another politician. He can’t do any worse than whether you put a 'D' in there or an 'R' in there. Nothing’s going to change.”

Of all the Super Tuesday states, the most Asian-Americans voters will be in Texas, where Asian Americans make up approximately 3.7 percent of the state's electorate, according to analysis by APIAVote.

It’s also the home of approximately 230,000 Vietnamese, according to the U.S. Census, the largest Vietnamese-American population outside of California.

But because many polls don’t sample Asians and specific Asian ethnicities significantly, they’ll often miss a Trump phenomenon resonating among Asian Americans like Ho, who said there isn't much that will happen that can take him off the Trump train — not even Trump’s failure to denounce former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke earlier this week.

“He can get an endorsement from anybody,” Ho said. “It’s not an issue for me.”

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Ho’s son Andrew, who is also in financial services, is also solidly for Trump, while his daughter Amanda, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, is for Cruz.

“I’m just glad she’s not for Bernie Sanders,” Ho said.

“This is the first time we’ve had people coming up to us asking about Super Tuesday."

The Ho family's political views are in stark contrast with some of the Vietnamese community in Alief, which is located west of Houston's Chinatown where the nationwide organization Boat People SOS (BPSOS) has a site that serves nearly 18,000 people a year, 90 percent of whom are Vietnamese immigrants and refugees.

Most of them are not Trump supporters, and tend to like Democrats, the organization said.

“They think he’s funny,” Jannette Diep, executive director of BPSOS-Houston told NBC News. “They know of Hillary and Trump. And everyone else they don’t.”

Diep said the only reason they know more about Trump than other candidates is his outlandish comments and the media coverage he gets. “I think they are as confused about him as the country is,” she said.

But with registration efforts ongoing since December, Diep said she feels people are engaged — especially compared to 2012.

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“Yes they are going to vote,” Diep said. “This is the first time we’ve had people coming up to us asking about Super Tuesday. Before we didn’t understand primary elections, so you know it’s a huge deal.”

BPSOS, a multi-service center for the Vietnamese community in Houston, has held voter registration drives since December. Executive director Jannette Diep said she's seen an unprecedented interest in the primary this Super Tuesday,Courtesy of BPOS-Houston

Diep said that in-language access to health care and education remain important issues in the community and, because of a reliance on social services, more of her clients have been drawn to the Democrats overthe past 10 years. She said that wouldn’t have been true with an older generation loyal to Republicans, who supported the effort against communism in Vietnam.

But even with the community’s change, she is surprised that any Vietnamese person could back Trump.

“[Trump] doesn’t represent the immigrant and refugee community we are ... not only here in this state but in the country," Diep said. "I think some of the things he said really affected a lot of the immigrants and refugees here. They’re offended by that. I think if he had apologized then we could reconsider. But they felt like he didn’t care.”

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Diep predicts that as the Vietnamese community matures and understands the issue, its politics will get complicated. At the moment, according to Diep, many of the top Vietnamese politicians who tend to be Republicans are successful businessmen and wealthy professionals who believe in smaller government, lower taxes, and often cuts in services to the people Diep sees at BPSOS.

It’s created a “rise of the oligarchs” within the Vietnamese community, Diep said. But she feels that should change as a new generation begins to understand how politics affects their lives.

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