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Analysts on the Asian-American Vote

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - July 31, 2012

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GWEN IFILL: Next to the presidential campaign.

Asian-Americans, the nation's fastest-growing minority, surpassed Latinos last year as the largest group of new immigrants. And politicians are beginning to pay attention.

Hari Sreenivasan reports from the battleground state of Nevada.

WOMAN: Well, go ahead and fill it out.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Newly-minted citizen Genevieve Ackerman (ph) is registering to vote for the first time.

WOMAN: This is my first time being a U.S. citizen, so it's exciting for me.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ackerman lives in Clark County, Nev., where this year ballots and election materials will be available in Tagalog, her native Filipino language.

Filipinos are now the second largest minority group in the county, behind Latinos. Their numbers have passed the threshold required by the Voting Rights Act to have ballots printed in a language other than English.

Voter registration drives are happening at places like this ethnic grocery store in Las Vegas frequently, because Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 9.9 percent of the population in the county.

Amie Belmonte organized this registration event.

AMIE BELMONTE, organizer: I think, sometimes, they don't understand the electoral process. They don't want the candidates stand for. They don't want to vote.

HARI SREENIVASAN: One challenge is the language barrier. It's far easier for the presidential campaigns to produce ads in Spanish than to communicate with voters in a dozen or more Asian languages.

Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Asians in Nevada has more than doubled. Along with that population has come another Las Vegas strip. Along this four-mile stretch of Spring Mountain Road, there are Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, and other Asian businesses. And they're all going after the Asian-American dream.

Hyung Lee has reached that dream. He immigrated to Las Vegas from South Korea 32 years ago and opened one liquor store.

So you own the travel agency, the water company, the food court and this entire mall?

MAN: Yes.

HARI SREENIVASAN: He is now one of the largest minority liquor retailers in the U.S. and is the godfather of an unofficial Korea Town. While Lee has supported Democratic candidates in the past, this time, he says his pro-business vote is squarely behind Mitt Romney.

MAN: I like Republican policies right now for supporting businesspeople. The last four years, a very tough time for some business here.

WOMAN: Here's a little information on Mitt Romney. Are you a fan? Good.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Romney campaign is trying to appeal to Asian small business owners' concerns over the economy.

Swati Singh is the campaign's Nevada coalitions director.

SWATI SINGH, Romney Campaign: With 11.6 percent unemployment here in Nevada, it's very important to reach out to the Asian-American community and work with them and have them support Governor Romney, because he's free market. He understands what the Asian-American community needs.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We caught up with Ms. Singh on board one of the Romney campaign buses which briefly came through town.

JON RALSTON, The Las Vegas Sun: Today, the Romney bus wooed Asian voters. Just by coincidence, a PBS NewsHour crew was in town researching a piece on the presidential campaigns' outreach to Asian voters. Hmm.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Jon Ralston has been covering politics in Nevada for more than 25 years. And he says, in all that time, campaigns have not paid much attention to the Asian vote.

JON RALSTON: So, I think the focus has been on -- of the two most obvious minorities here, the African-American community and especially the burgeoning Hispanic community, which has just exploded here. And Asian-Americans are not as well-organized.

HARI SREENIVASAN: This lack of organization leads to one of the lowest voter turnout rates of any minority group, a challenge Amie Belmonte faces as she tries to mobilize this community.

AMIE BELMONTE: In the Philippines, it's corrupt and over here, it's procedural. There is a protocol that you need to do. And so that's quite intimidating for them, because they're not used to that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ralston says President Obama, who won two-thirds of the Asian vote nationwide in 2008, may have a slight edge in Nevada because of the work done by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's come-from-behind campaign in 2010.

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