- - Sunday, November 23, 2014

Asian-Americans, the country’s fastest-growing minority group, are embracing the Grand Old Party.

In the 2014 midterm elections, preliminary exit poll data showed nearly half of Asian-American voters backed the Republican candidate for House. That’s a remarkable 46-point swing in Asian support from 2012, when Asians voted by wide margins for President Obama’s re-election. Disbelieving pundits are questioning how a demographic group seemingly switched parties overnight.

Eye-popping exit poll data is the wrong metric for measuring long-term success. It puts the party back to its old and unsuccessful outreach habits of nominating minority candidates in long-shot districts and throwing up last-minute ads in another language.

Republicans can’t hit home runs with Asian-American voters until we have a team of candidates ready to take the field. Republicans wisely shifted this cycle to building a bench. Across the country, more than three-dozen Asian-American Republican candidates won elections at the state and local level. The wins aren’t exactly high-profile — school board, state senate, city council — but over time, these victories will pay off big dividends to the Republican Party.

“Republicans finally devoted some time, attention and resources to cultivating Asian voters,” Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, noted in his post-election analysis.

In American Samoa, Aumua Amata Radewagen, a member of the Republican National Committee, will become the territory’s first female representative to Congress. State Sen. Kimberly Yee, the first Asian-American elected to the Arizona legislature, cruised to re-election by 18 points. Even in Orange County, the last bastion of Republican power in California, the party backed four successful Asian-American women running for the state legislature and county board of supervisors.

There’s a compound effect. “Once a community member is elected to a prominent position, it could inspire others with similar backgrounds to lead as well,” argues Tim Nguyen, chair of the Asian Pacific American Coalition. Newly elected California State Sen. Janet Nguyen, the highest-ranking Vietnamese-American in the country, can recruit candidates from Little Saigon to run as Republican candidates for school board and city council. Connecticut State Sen. Tony Hwang can raise money from the Taiwanese-American community that otherwise would never see its way to Republican coffers. San Diego City Council Chris Cate, the first Asian-American in half a century to be elected to the San Diego City Council, has the charisma to introduce GOP presidential candidates to Filipino-American voters in swing states, such as Nevada, Florida and Virginia.

Any one of these rising stars is poised to win a conservative Republican primary for Congress. Take Oklahoma State Sen.-elect Ervin Yen, a first-generation Taiwanese-American immigrant, who is rock-solid on gun rights. “America was built by patriots who used guns to provide for their families, protect their homes and overthrow tyranny,” Mr. Yen, who immigrated to the United States after the Communist takeover of China, writes on his campaign website. “I am a strong believer that those principles are what still makes America great and that the Second Amendment must be defended from liberals who would take away our hard-won rights.”

For the next two years, Republicans like Mr. Yen will be featured almost daily in Asian-language newspapers, sharing a conservative message with communities who have for too long been taken for granted by the Democrats.

Republicans have elected a bench of bilingual stars who have real political power. And you can expect their influence to dramatically increase when the 2016 presidential candidates start calling.

Shawn Steel, a former chairman of the California Republican Party, is the state’s national committeeman on the Republican National Committee.

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