- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2015

Chuong Nguyen, the Republican state delegate candidate in Virginia’s 87th District, left his native country of Vietnam in a small fishing boat and found refuge in Malaysia before coming to the United States. His father had been imprisoned in a re-education camp, and his wife’s family was broken up when they were arrested and imprisoned after trying to flee.

But Mr. Nguyen, who has been a teacher, a prosecutor and a small-business owner, said his candidacy should not be defined by his ethnicity.

“I would never want to be a minority candidate in the sense [that] I’m only defined by ethnicity. It’s a minority candidate in the sense that you want to lend a voice not only because of my ethnicity, but also by the views and perspectives that have been in the minority, that have been not fully appreciated within a larger forum,” said Mr. Nguyen, who is competing to represent the district comprising parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties.

As the national party tries to boost its appeal among minority groups, Republicans in Virginia, home to booming Hispanic and Asian-American populations, have recruited for statehouse races a number of candidates with immediate roots outside the United States.

“It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what the color of your skin is — we’re interested in putting forward the best candidates,” said John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia.

Danny Vargas, who is running in the nearby 86th District comprising parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, is a self-described “proud Latino.”

Having grown up in poverty in Brooklyn, New York, he served in the Air Force for seven years and was chairman of the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“All of these things make me a little bit different, I think — not just the fact that I’m a proud Latino, but the fact that I had a very diverse background that really addresses the needs of our community today,” Mr. Vargas said.

Sang Yi, who is challenging Delegate David Bulova, a Democrat, in the 37th District, which includes Fairfax city, came to the U.S. from South Korea when he was a child. His father got a job at a T-shirt factory and his mother found work at a small grocery store as the family moved up the economic ladder.

“It’s only an extraordinary story now because that’s not possible,” said Mr. Yi, who works on Capitol Hill. “I’ve seen it with my own two eyes — that type of system is gone, and I think that’s a travesty. That kind of spirit is why I’m running.”

Though candidates don’t want to be viewed solely through a racial lens, their campaigns could present an opportunity for Republicans to rebuild relationships with minority groups that flocked overwhelmingly to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

The Republican Party is looking to keep or add to its majorities in the state House and Senate to lay the groundwork for next year’s presidential election cycle in the key swing state after Democratic successes in statewide elections in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

But Mr. Nguyen and Mr. Vargas are running in competitive districts where victory is by no means guaranteed, and Mr. Bulova won re-election in 2013 with about 61 percent of the vote.

Geoffrey Skelley with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics pointed to data compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project showing that there is one non-Caucasian Republican, Delegate Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach, compared with 20 nonwhite Democrats out of the 140 members of the state House and Senate.

“These candidacies reflect at least some awareness that the GOP needs to diversify,” Mr. Skelley said in an email, adding that, given the “melting pot” of Northern Virginia, such candidacies are also probably more a reflection of the region’s diversity than broad-based Republican efforts.

Delegate Mark Keam, Fairfax Democrat, said his party has been better on policies that affect minority communities and noted that Democrats significantly outnumber Republican officeholders in Northern Virginia, making it easier for Republicans to try to run candidates of their choice to challenge incumbents.

“It’s one thing to say, ‘Oh, we have people who look like Asians or blacks or Latinos, what have you,’ ” said Mr. Keam, the first Asian-born immigrant elected to the Virginia Statehouse.

However, Mr. Whitbeck said the Republican Party is seeking new voters all the time — not just during election season — and cited Ed Gillespie’s U.S. Senate campaign last year as an example.

“He wasn’t meeting with just few folks here and there, photo-opping and moving on. He was at every event he could possibly find his way into, and he made it a priority,” Mr. Whitbeck said.

Elsewhere in Northern Virginia, Anna Urman, who was born in Belarus and whose Jewish family fled the Soviet Union, is running for delegate in the Democrat-leaning 43rd District, comprising parts of Fairfax County.

Mr. Whitbeck said the Republican Party, in the wake of recent nominating contests, could be poised to have four women in the state Senate compared with six for the Democrats.

“And that, more than some concerted effort to make our numbers higher, was an effort based on quality candidates competing under nominating processes and coming out ahead, sometimes in very conservative districts,” he said.

At the local level, Republican John Guevara, a first-generation American who works in telecommunications, is running for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors seat being vacated by long-serving Republican Michael Frey.

“Immigrants who are coming to our country today need to know that, you know, there are two parties,” Mr. Guevara said. “And the Republican Party espouses for them their conservative values by nature who they are. And I want to be able to spread that message. I want them to understand that it is OK to be Hispanic and be a conservative.”

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