Democratic presidential candidates expected to attend forum in Orange County later this year
Democrats running for President in 2020 are expected to come to Orange County in September for a first-of-its-kind candidate forum that’s being organized by local and national Asian American groups.
The event, expected to draw leading contenders for the nomination, is another signal of the county’s growing role in national Democratic politics and the emerging power of Asian American voters.
Until recently, Orange County was so solidly Republican that it typically didn’t draw campaign attention from presidential candidates and, instead, was mostly a place to raise money. But as politics and demographics have shifted, the county is viewed as a key battleground for both major parties. And with California’s presidential primary moved from May to a “Super Tuesday,” in early March, the state is expected to play a major role in determining which candidates advance to the 2020 general election.
Also, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders comprise the fastest growing ethnic group — and a rising political force — in the United States.
Roughly one in four House districts nationally have more than 5 percent Asian and Pacific Islander voters, creating a potential swing block in multiple districts and states. In Orange County, about one in five residents are Asian American or Pacific Islander, and those voters recently have been key to Democratic victories in local, state and federal elections.
“Never before have Asians really been this pivotal in the presidential primary process,” said Varun Nikore, president of AAPI Victory Fund, a Super PAC headquartered in Florida.
The AAPI Victory Fund, along with the grassroots PAC Asian Americans Rising, are co-organizers of the forum. Leaders of both groups said the goal is to educate Asian and Pacific Islander voters about the Democrats who will be in the race at that point, to ensure that their communities’ needs are heard by those candidates, and to energize those voters going into the 2020 election.
“We feel like this is a moment where we can all rise… to make this opportunity happen,” said Katie Nguyen Kalvoda, an Orange County resident who co-founded Asian Americans Rising in 2018. The group now has some 400 members.
Some policies of the Trump Administration have particularly motivated Asian Americans to move away from the Republican party and to get involved in politics, Kalvoda said. She noted the administration’s effort in late 2018 to renegotiate an agreement with Vietnam that, for a decade, had protected immigrants from deportation to make it possible for some immigrants to be sent back to that country.
“Because of the president’s policies, we expect AAPI voter registration to increase significantly in 2020,” said Bel Leong-Hong, co-founder of AAPI Victory Fund.
“This forum will energize the AAPI community and inform them which candidate is best suited to lead our country.”
Three Asian American and Pacific Islander candidates are already in the race for the Democratic nomination. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Oakland, is daughter to a Tamil Indian mother and a Jamaican father. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, is Samoan-American. And entrepreneur Andrew Yang’s parent immigrated from Taiwan.
Forum organizers aren’t saying yet who has committed to come to the forum. But Nikore said those announcements will be coming soon, with several “top-tier” candidates who’ve already pledged to show up.
The forum is expected to be one-on-one question and answer sessions with candidates. They’re working with Asian American film and TV personalities to host the sessions, Nikore said.
The event will be held Sept. 8, though the exact time and place are still being worked out. But Kalvoda said they’ve booked space at both the Segerstrom Center in Costa Mesa and the The Irvine Barclay Theater for the event.
This is the first such AAPI Democratic presidential forum, and Nikore said they expect people to come from across the country to participate.
Along with the forum itself, the groups are organizing an entire “Day of Action” and weekend full of other events aimed at training, motivating and mobilizing AAPI voters. The larger goal, they said, is to register 1 million new AAPI voters by 2020.
More details and an RSVP should be available soon at AAPIPresidentialForum.com.