With less than four months to go before Election Day, Orange County Republicans in California are confident that at least two of the four Asian-American GOP women running in high-profile local and state races will emerge victorious, helping to change the face of the party overnight.
The push to elect the Asian-American women is part of Republican efforts to tap into Democrat-style identity politics to try to find a way to stop — or even reverse — its eroding support among minority voters.
“California is a precursor of the dynamic change, demographicswise, in America,” said Shawn Steel, a member of the Republican National Committee from California whose wife, Michelle, is one of the candidates. “So this is a harbinger. This is a call in the dark night saying, ‘Look, guys, let’s change. We have to adapt or die.’”
In the state that controls the single biggest pot of electoral votes, Wayne Lindholm, president of the Lincoln Club of Orange County, which has served as a rich source of funds for Republicans over the years and whose members have included Richard Nixon and John Wayne, summed up the party’s challenge more bluntly: “We need to break the image of being just old, white guys.”
The candidates cleared the first hurdle in the primary last month.
Michelle Steel, a Korean-American, came out as the top vote-getter in a race for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, and Ling-Ling Chang, a Chinese-American, came out as the top vote-getter in the race for a state Assembly seat — giving each a boost of momentum heading into the November elections, where Republicans expect them to win.
Meanwhile, Young Kim, a Korean-American and former staffer for Rep. Edward R. Royce, moved forward in the race for a state Assembly seat, and Janet Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American and Orange County supervisor, advanced in her race for the state Senate, which is being billed as one of the hottest statehouse races in California this year.
“They went through the first crucible and outperformed expectations everywhere,” said Mr. Steel. “If we get all four elected, it is a dramatic shift overnight, and of real power. It would definitely change the look of the Republican Party.”
California used to be Republican territory, producing Nixon, Ronald Reagan and other GOP stalwarts up through the late 1980s, when dramatic demographic trends began to eat away at the conservative voter base.
That has been the case in Orange County. Louis DeSipio, a professor of Hispanic studies at the University of California, Irvine, said Nixon wouldn’t recognize his former stomping grounds.
In 1980, the state’s population was 23.6 million, 67 percent of which was white, 19 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, and 7 percent black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Fast-forward to today, and of the state’s 38.3 million people, 39 percent are white, 38 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian and about 7 percent black.
That is a problem for a party that has won elections primarily on the backs of white voters. The result: Democrats control the governorship, both U.S. Senate seats and large majorities in both houses of the state Legislature. George H.W. Bush, in 1988, was the last Republican to carry the Golden State in a presidential election.
“The white electorate on which [Republicans] have relied for many years is growing much more slowly than the nonwhite electorate,” Mr. DeSipio said.
Relying on white voters isn’t working for the Republican Party nationally, either.