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Analysis: Both Parties Courting Asian-Americans To Swing Virginia

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There's a been a lot of focus on Latino voters in this year's elections, with presidential candidates from both major parties making efforts to court them. Asian-American voters are increasing an important group as well, including in battleground state Virginia. Shane Goldmacher, congressional correspondent with the National Journal speaks with WAMU's Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about this demographic shift.

Why are Asian-Americans such an important group in this election?

Asian-Americans are the swing voters in the future, and they're already playing a big role in this election. One of the main reasons is that they're a huge, growing part of the population. In every state of the country, the Asian-American population jumped by at least 30 percent in the last decade, Virginia as well. That's number one. Number two: they swing between the two parties more than almost any other ethnic group. The third is that the campaigns run on such close margins that they can't afford to ignore any slice of the electorate, no matter how big or small."

In Virginia, have we seen Asian-American voters tending to swing to one party or another?

"Virginia's one of the great examples that campaign strategists look to on both sides of the aisle. This is a vote that can be one by both Republicans and Democrats. In 2009, Bob McDonnell ran for governor and he made a huge outreach to Asian-Americans. He sent mailers in Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Tagolog, and he actually ended up winning some of the most Asian precincts in the state just a year after President Obama carry them. They literally flipped between the two sides."

How are we seeing candidates reach out to Asian-Americans this campaign cycle?

"There's a mall in the Virginia suburbs called the Eden Center. It's mostly Vietnamese businesses. It's basically been a must-stop on the tour of every candidate at every level. You've seen two of Mitt Romney's sons were there last month, George Allen was there, Tim Kaine was there, George Allen's wife visited. They're doing really specific things. When a lot of the candidates arrive at the mall, they wear these yellow scarves with red stripes on them as a symbolic message to the local Vietnamese-American community that they're opposed to Vietnamese communism. So it's not just showing up, but saying the right things and wearing the right things and campaigns are paying attention."

What impact do you expect Asian-Americans to have on the elections in Virginia?

"Asian-Americans are about six percent of Virginia's population and a smaller amount of the electorate. If you've been watching TV or listening to commercial radio, you hear an awful lot of campaign ads. It's one of the most closely-contested states in the country. And both sides see that if this is a group that swings — from 60 percent on one side to 60 percent on the other — they could be deciding the election. That's why they've been investing in in-language outreach and showing up physically to these malls and community centers and doing this outreach."

How many Asian-American candidates are we seeing in this year's races?

"A record number of Asian-Americans are running for Congress across the country. There is currently eight voting members of Congress that are Asian-American, and up to 25 different challengers have been running across the country to join them. A lot of them are not going to win, but there is going to be potentially new people in new places. In Hawaii, which is the only state in the country with the majority of Asian-Americans, there could be the first female Asian-American U.S. Senator. Both Illinois and New York are potentially looking at their first Asian-American member of Congress. They had prominent speaking roles for both parties in national elections. They're increasingly out of the shadows and in the limelight."

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