Hillary Clinton stumps for Asian American votes in SoCal

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a community forum on health care at Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a community forum on health care at Moulton Elementary School in Des Moines, Iowa.
Charlie Neibergall/AP

Hillary Clinton traveled to Southern California Thursday to rally voters of Asian American and Pacific Islander descent, looking to tap into the nation's fastest growing racial minority.

Clinton visited the San Gabriel Valley, a suburban enclave about 10 miles east of the city of Los Angeles that is home to more than a half million Asian Americans, many first-generation immigrants.

She's there to launch the grassroots Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders for Hillary.

The Asian American community has been the subject of relatively little discussion in the Democratic and Republican primaries to date. The growing pool of Asian American voters has trended Democratic in recent presidential elections.

The Republican National Committee denounced Clinton's outreach to the community Thursday as being "for her own political fundraising benefit."

"The reality is Democrats have long taken the AAPI community for granted, and Hillary Clinton will be no different as she continues to support the same failed policies that hurt AAPIs across the country," said Ninio Fetalvo, the RNC's press secretary for Asian American and Pacific Islander issues.

According to exit polls, nearly three-quarters of Asian American voters favored President Barack Obama in the 2012 election. Still, analysts say the Asian American vote can tilt in either direction.

"Their party identity is not cast in stone," said Karthick Ramakrishnan, a professor of public policy and political science at the University of California, Riverside. "There's still potential for persuasion there."

Nearly 4 million Asians voted in the 2012 presidential election, a 547,000 increase over 2008. They comprised about 3 percent of the total electorate.

California has the largest Asian population in the United States. In the San Gabriel Valley, a number of cities are now majority Asian-American and store signs in Mandarin and Cantonese line the streets.

Trung Ta, 62, a defense aerospace engineer, said he initially identified as an independent after arriving in the U.S. from Vietnam at age 21. He started off as a dishwasher, went to college and said he became a Democrat during former President Bill Clinton's first administration.

"We've been helped by Democratic policies to become engineers, lawyers," he said as he waited to enter Hillary Clinton's event Thursday.

He said that the majority of his fellow Vietnamese immigrants identify as Republican, though their numbers have declined, particularly among young adults.

Suzette Lopez, 60, a financial planner born in the Philippines who now lives in the San Gabriel Valley, said the Filipino community is still similarly divided, though she plans to vote for the woman she calls "Madam Hillary Clinton."

"Some of them are strong Republicans because of their religious issues," she said. "They think Democrats are too liberal."

This story has been updated.