Jon Ralston:

Asian-American vote cannot be ignored

Wed, Jul 18, 2012 (2 a.m.)

The last time The Forgotten Minority made any difference in Nevada politics was when the marvelous Sharron Angle told a group of Hispanic students, “Some of you look a little more Asian to me.”

That line was emblematic of Angle’s serial alienation of the Hispanic vote, which, among many other things, cost her the election in 2010 to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. But what was less noticed was the Reid campaign’s quiet, sophisticated outreach to the Asian-Pacific Islander vote, especially with the endorsement of Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, whom Reid all but credited with his victory.

With all the chatter this cycle of how important — potentially determinative — the Hispanic vote could be in the presidential election, we who chatter often forget that Asian-American voters could also be important. And if races for president and U.S. Senate — and maybe a congressional race — are close enough here, every demographic will be seen as crucial — and, thus, pandered to.

So it comes as no surprise that the Team Romney Bus stopped Monday at Seafood City, with Asian-American state Senate candidate Mari Nakashima St. Martin conveniently on hand, and the presumptive GOP nominee’s campaign also has an Asian-American-Pacific Islanders for Romney Coalition meeting this weekend at the Team Nevada (aka shadow Republican Party) headquarters.

(I do chuckle that this made-for-TV Seafood City stop occurred while a “PBS Newshour” crew was in Las Vegas doing a piece on the influence of the Asian-American vote in November. But coincidences happen, right?)

Just as Republicans have discovered they can’t let Democrats dominate the Hispanic vote, they know they must make inroads among Asian-Americans, who were just under 9 percent of Nevada’s population (about a quarter of a million) in the 2010 census. That’s nowhere near the Hispanic population — Latinos make up about a quarter of Nevada’s residents. But they could be a significant voting bloc, and they now lean substantially to the Democrats.

A survey released Tuesday by APIAVote, which is a nonpartisan group but one that used longtime Democratic pollster Celinda Lake’s firm, indicated how important Asians could be, how much work the Republicans have to do and just how much opportunity they have.

Gigantic caveat alert: The April poll was part of a national survey and did only 112 extra interviews in Nevada, which means the margin of error was quite large — 9.3 percent. That means the poll may not tell us much at all.

Having said that, the numbers did not come back so well for the president, with the pollster concluding, “Asian-American voters in Nevada tend to be more critical of Obama and more supportive of Romney than Asian-Americans nationwide.”

The survey found 20 percent of Asian-Americans rated the president as doing a poor job, compared with 20 percent nationally. Forty-two percent said he was doing a good job, 8 percent said excellent and 30 percent just fair.

Frankly, I don’t put a lot of stock in those numbers because of the margin of error, nor do I buy the 54-29 lead the poll says Obama has over Romney here — that actually is well under the 46-point lead the president has over Romney in the nationwide results (713 registered voters, 3.7 percent margin of error).

But the poll’s message is something I do put stock in — a very simple one: Notice us.

And here’s what I do believe, based on some figures from a political operative who has always had impeccable databases: Democrats have about an 8-point lead over Republicans (39-31) among Asian-Americans in Nevada, with a large concentration of those voters in CD3, Nevada’s swing congressional district. In CD3, according to figures I have seen, the voting-age population of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders surmounts 15 percent.

So you get why this group may have more attention paid to it this year than any previous cycle. The Democrats have picked up on the huge growth of this demographic — 116 percent since 2000 — and began outreach efforts two cycles ago. They have community events, media contacts and more, especially in the Filipino community, which may make up half of the Asian population here.

“Those who ignore us do so at their own peril,” one Asian-American activist said Tuesday.

There seems little chance of that as the presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns ramp up. And the GOP — or at least the shadow GOP — has nowhere to go but up, just as it does with Hispanics, because the Democrats have so embarrassed them the past two cycles with a sophisticated, relentless voter-targeting effort that helped Obama win here in ’08 and Reid survive in ’10.

There is nothing more flattering for a demographic group than to be paid attention to and pandered to by candidates. So the best news out of all of this for The Forgotten Minority: forgotten no more.

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