Jeanne Serrano traveled nearly 400 miles from the Bay Area suburb of Vallejo to San Gabriel to hear Hillary Clinton's pitch to woo Asian American voters. When the 46-year-old attorney walked out of the hotel ballroom after the Democratic presidential hopeful's speech Thursday, she was nearly in tears.
Clinton had devoted time to calling for immigration reform, and she drew some of her strongest applause when she vowed to shorten wait times for those seeking visas.
“I have a brother that we have been waiting more than 15 years and still he is not here, he is the last person we have in the Philippines,” Serrano said. “To hear her talk about it — I was so fired up.”
It was exactly the kind of connection Clinton's campaign was looking to make at the San Gabriel Hilton in the official kickoff of an effort to cement support from the fastest-growing racial group in the nation. While California is considered a lock for Democrats next fall, Asian voters in swing states such as Nevada and Virginia could make the difference. The event was aimed as much at solidifying votes of those in the crowd as recruiting volunteers to help sway other Asian voters across the country.
Before introducing Clinton, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, pointed to Virginia Sen. Mark R. Warner's razor-thin 2014 defeat of his Republican opponent, in which one exit poll found 68% of Asians voted for the Democrat.
“We've gone from being marginalized to becoming the margin of victory,” Chu said.
Hundreds — some from as far away as Nevada — snaked through the lobby of the Hilton hotel on a stretch of Valley Boulevard dotted with strip malls to hear Clinton's 30-minute stump slamming Republican presidential candidates. But not everyone was a lock to back her second presidential bid.
Myron Dean Quon, the executive director of the nonprofit National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse, brought his mother, Loran, 74, to the event. Quon said his parents, who live in Alhambra, voted for then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008 but were disappointed when he did not deliver on all of his campaign goals. In 2012, they voted for Mitt Romney.
Quon said he and his mother liked what they heard Thursday, praising Clinton's pledge to increase federal funding to find a cure for Alzheimer's and her proposal for a new tax break for people who take care of aging family members. But his mother was still skeptical of whether those ideas could become reality.
The Asian American vote should not be considered a slam-dunk for Clinton, Quon said, especially among older voters, who are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Many in the crowd were drawn to the historic nature of Clinton's candidacy. That was the case for Margie Llorente-Gonzales, chairwoman of the Asian American & Pacific Islander Democratic Caucus in Nevada, who remembers when Clinton, then the first lady, accompanied President Bill Clinton on a trip to the Philippines in the 1990s.
“In the Philippines, two women have been president,” Llorente-Gonzales said. “It happened in the Philippines, it needs to happen here.”
Other young voters, such as University of Pennsylvania freshman Cassandra Dinh, 19, of Rosemead, were considering voting for Clinton's chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. But Dinh said Clinton's foreign policy experience, especially in Asia, outweighed Sanders' progressive domestic proposals. And it mattered to Dinh that Clinton was making the trip to the San Gabriel Valley to talk to Asian voters.
“This event alone is a big deal,” she said. “The fact that she is willing to come here and talk to us is a show of how open-minded she is to all minorities.”
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