LAS VEGAS — Dozens of Republicans and Democrats in east Las Vegas pitched themselves Tuesday night to members of the state’s growing Asian-American and Pacific Islander community with the hope that those voters will swing tight races in the battleground state.
The bipartisan meet-the-candidates event, which took place just beyond the city’s Chinatown district dotted with bus signs, billboards and businesses advertising in Chinese, Korean and other languages, is part of a growing political activism in the diverse community.
Sonny Vinuya, the president of the Las Vegas Asian Chamber of Commerce, said candidates are realizing that Asian-Americans are becoming more involved and should be courted.
About 9 percent of Nevada’s population is solely Asian-American and about 1 percent is solely native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander. But the community hasn’t been as active or organized as other ethnic groups in the state like Latinos.
“We are so content with doing well for ourselves pretty much. We don’t think about really going out there politically,” said Vinuya, who was born in the Philippines.
Culturally, many Asian-Americans have roots in countries with less of a democratic tradition and governments that may discourage or depress political participation, he said.
“A lot of us come from different countries. Some of the countries that we come from, you’re silent. You’re not allowed to speak up,” Vinuya said.
This year, he and others are making sure the community in Nevada is speaking up — and candidates are listening.
Candidates are “really realizing that this is a constituency that they need to understand,” said Pauline Ng Lee, the president of the Nevada Republican Men’s Club.
Steve Sisolak, a Democrat running for governor who was among the candidates attending Tuesday night’s event, had Chinese language campaign signs at his booth and pledged to the audience to work on getting a police station in the city’s Chinatown with officers who speak the local languages “to make sure that you have the same kind of protection that everybody else in the valley has.”
In 2016, presidential candidates coming through the state made similar efforts to court Asian-Americans, particularly Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Both major political parties this year have made it a point to have a presence at Asian-American and Pacific Islander community events.
Exit polls since the 1990s have found Asian-Americans have increasingly voted for Democrats during presidential elections. They split evenly in the 2014 midterms between Democrats and Republicans.
Lee said that while Asian-Americans seem to have become more Democratic but in recent years, she has seen more joining the GOP. There is in general much more political participation across the board, she said.
Derek Uehara, a Las Vegas financial planner who ran as a Republican for state treasurer this year, said events like Tuesday night’s forum will encourage more people in the community to get involved.
“We’re saying, listen, as you get more and more invested in the community,” said Uehara, who is of Japanese and Chinese descent. “You want to make sure your voice is heard, and it’s important to be a part of the process.”