C(API)TOL CORRESPONDENT: AAPIs again face tough election tests in 2014


The growing influence of Asian American Pacific Islanders in politics naturally leads into more difficult election year contests. AAPI candidates are in some of the most contested races in California history.

The race for Congressional District 15 exemplifies the “jungle primary” when two candidates from the same party attempt to cannibalize each other in the primary election and then match up in the general election. Venerable Rep. Mike Honda is fighting to hold onto his seat against young tech attorney Rho Khanna in the heart of Silicon Valley. Khanna started the primary election battle with significant tech industry support that allowed him to handily out raise Honda. Nevertheless, Honda’s name and years of serving the community paid off and led to a 20-point margin of victory in June. However, Khanna came in second place over the Republican candidate that allowed him to advance to the general election for a rematch in November. Honda’s strong victory in June gave his campaign a boost in confidence and led to a renewed surge of money into his campaign coffers. Honda beat Khanna in several cycles of fundraising leading political observers to consider this race a done deal. However, recent polling shows that Honda and Khanna are in a virtual tie.

Congressional District 7 is a showdown between doctor and Rep. Ami Bera and former Rep. Doug Ose. Bera was able to win two years ago by riding in on the presidential election tide of voter turnout. Without a presidential election this year and a mediocre set of statewide races and ballot measures, turnout throughout the state is expected to reach historic lows. As a result, Bera is vulnerable. Congressional partisans see this and each side is moving large amounts of money to blanket the airwaves in support of their candidates.

California Senate District 6 matches up former county supervisor and current Assemblyman Roger Dickinson against respected local Taiwanese American pediatrician and Assemblyman Richard Pan. This race has turned into a proxy battle between the plaintiff attorneys who support Dickinson and the medical profession and insurance industry who support Pan. Both are Democrats with organized labor backing both candidates. Millions of dollars have already been spent on this race through independent expenditure committees that are not limited in how much they can spend to support or oppose candidates so long as they do not coordinate their efforts with the candidate that they are supporting.

California Assembly District 9 is a duel between Sacramento County Sheriffs Deputy and Elk Grove Vice Mayor Jim Cooper and retired Sacramento police captain and city councilman Darrell Fong. IEs for Cooper are nearly at $1 million while IEs for Fong are approximately at $300,000. Fong, the son of a Chinese American father and Japanese American mother, is strongly supported by the California Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus. Cooper, who is African American, is strongly supported by the California Legislative Black Caucus. Both are Democrats.

In the Bay Area, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu is competing with fellow San Francisco Supervisor David Campos to replace retiring Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. Chiu has consistently outraised Campos and is the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in IEs. Notably, the tech community is a major funder of the IEs in support of Chiu. While Chiu has a fair share of support of some labor organizations, the majority of Campos’ support is coming from organized labor. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee recently came out in support of Chiu, while California Democratic Party chair and former state Senator John Burton came out to back Campos. Similar to AD 9, the Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucus has strongly supported Chiu while the Latino Legislative Caucus and the LGBT Caucus is backing Campos.

California Assembly District 65 in North Orange County is embroiled in a partisan battle between incumbent Democrat Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva against a conservative Republican local entrepreneur and field staffer for Rep. Ed Royce. The district is evenly split between Democrat and Republican voters with a significant portion of decline-to-state voters and a large number of Korean American and Vietnamese American voters. The Democrat dominated Latino and Asian Pacific American Legislative Caucuses are backing Quirk-Silva. Winning this seat is critical for the Democrats who need it to maintain a two-thirds super majority in the Assembly. 

Nearby in California Senate district 34, a similar battle is brewing between former Democrat Assemblyman Jose Solorio and Republican Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen. Like AD 65, this district is home to a significant AAPI voter population. Solorio has to mobilize Latino voters and make inroads with AAPI voters like his predecessor Lou Correa in order to win. Conversely, Nguyen needs to mobilize Vietnamese voters and make inroads with Latino voters.

Further southwest, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi is battling for his political life in the 66th Assembly District. The district has a slight Democratic voter advantage, but low turnout projections and a well-funded opponent, David Hadley, has made this a competitive race. IEs are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on both sides of this increasingly bitter battle. Recently, local leaders and law enforcement have denounced extremely offensive mailers from Hadley that used a disturbing image of a child and leveled outrageous charges against Muratsuchi.

Lastly, Board of Equalization Member Betty Yee is mounting a spirited effort to become State Controller over Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearingen. This is a fairly competitive race. The GOP sees Swearingen as a rising star and potentially the best opportunity to win a state constitutional office in California. Democrats currently hold all of the state constitutional offices outside of the Board of Equalization. Swearingen has earned the endorsement of a number of the major newspapers in the state while Yee is the beneficiary of nearly $300,000 in IE support from organized labor.

Not all AAPI races are nail-bitters this year. A number of AAPI candidates are in races that should be easily won in November. Democrat Evan Low in AD 28, Democrat Kansen Chu in AD 25, and Republican Ling Ling Chang in AD 55 are almost guaranteed victories due to the lopsided partisan advantages in their districts. Also, easy re-elections face Assemblyman Das Williams, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, Assemblyman Phil Ting, and Assemblyman Ed Chau. Rep. Judy Chu and Rep.  Doris Matsui. Rep. Mark Takano, who is in a relatively competitive seat, seems to be fairly safe in his re-election bid. State Senator Ted Lieu is on track to win the congressional seat that was vacated by Henry Waxman. State Controller John Chiang who is running for State Treasurer, Attorney General Kamala Harris who is running for re-election, and former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma who is running for Board of Equalization face marginal opposition.

This election is also not just about the candidates. AAPIs critical players behind the scenes in these battles as well. Former union leader Courtni Pugh is the main strategist behind the state Senate Democrat effort to elect Jose Solorio in SD 34 and maintain a Democratic super-majority in the state Senate. Across the hall, Charu Khopkar is the political warlord for Assembly Democrats and their efforts to re-elect Sharon Quirk-Silva and Al Muratsuchi to preserve their super-majority. It is a historic achievement that the principal strategist for the Democratic Caucus in each house is an AAPI. Never before have so many AAPI candidates competed in such heavily contested races. The outcome of this election will have much to say about how far AAPIs have come in the rough and tumble world of politics.

Bill Wong is a political consultant with nearly 30 years of experience and currently the campaign manager for the Darrell Fong for Assembly 2014 campaign. 


Other congressional candidates:

Amer. Samoa: Eni Faleomavaega*

Guam: Madeleine Bordallo*

Hawai‘i: Tulsi Gabbard* (HI-2); Mark Takai v. Charles Djou (HI-1)

Illinois: Tammy Duckworth*

New Jersey: Roy Cho (NJ-5)

New York: Grace Meng* (NY-6)

Northern Mariana Islands: Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan*

Pennsylvania: Manan Trivedi (PA-6)

Virginia: Bobby Scott (VA-3)


Hawai‘i Governor’s Race: David Ige v. Duke Aiona v. Mufi Hannemann

* denotes incumben



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