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Whitman Targets Asian Voters in California

Whitman Targets Asian Voters in California

By Scott Conroy - October 24, 2010


LOS ANGELES -- Republican Meg Whitman may be running for Governor of California, but her appearance at the Koreatown Galleria in Los Angeles on Saturday had the carnival-like feel of a presidential campaign.

Surrounded by an entourage of campaign aides dressed in identical green t-shirts, Whitman chatted with shoppers as she made her way through the aisles of a supermarket. When it was time for the former eBay CEO to pay for the items she purchased, photojournalists jostled for position and even jumped on top of a checkout counter to get a clear angle.

After the supermarket stop, mall patrons who are more used to bumping into movie celebrities than politicians snapped photos, as they caught a glimpse of the candidate.

When Whitman entered a coffee shop to hold a press conference with local journalists, campaign staffers wearing earpieces guarded the door.

In a state with a population of over 37 million people, retail politicking does not typically have the same impact that it does in smaller states. But in a race as close as the one Whitman finds herself in against former Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, face-to-face interactions with voters are important, too.

Whitman's visit to Koreatown on Saturday was instructive of her campaign's methodical approach to targeting the state's minority groups, whose combined population composes the majority of California voters.

"It's an enormous state, and you have to run it smartly," Whitman said in an interview with RealClearPolitics. "I built a campaign to win, and I think people will tell you that this is a highly functional campaign. Everyone's playing on the same team, everyone is held accountable for results. I hold myself accountable, and I feel like it's going really well."

Whitman has donated over $140 million to her own campaign, making her the largest self-funded candidate in American political history. While her ubiquitous TV ads, impressive Web site, and extensive direct mailing campaign are perhaps the most effective way she can reach voters in the state, Whitman seemed to enjoy the direct interaction on Saturday.

"It's different than being in business, I will tell you," Whitman said of life on the campaign trail. "It's quite different."

Asian-American voters in California, who make up about 12.5 percent of the state's population, have traditionally leaned Democratic. But Whitman campaign political consultant Mike Murphy told RealClearPolitics that the Republican has made solid inroads with various Asian-American groups.

"The Asian community, kind of like everything in California, is big and complicated," Murphy said, noting that Korean-Americans and Vietnamese-Americans tend to lean more Republican. "Bottom line is Asians are a swing vote."

Whitman received a generally positive reception in Koreatown on Saturday, but she seemed to struggle to offer specific advice when she was approached by a woman who said that her 29-year-old son was laid off from his Wall Street job a year-and-a-half ago and has been unable to find work.

"18 to 29-year-olds have had it the worst, since they have the least experience," Whitman said.

The woman noted that her son had been an "A" student at an Ivy League institution. "What would you say to him? Just hang in there?" she asked.

"Hang in there," Whitman said. "Jobs are on the way. And we just need to change the nature of the economy here. We need to have more jobs, and that's why I'm running for governor."

Whitman faced no such grilling from Joe Kung, who was among the supporters on hand. On this particular day, Kung was not dressed in the blue Whitman-themed "Kung Fu uniform" that he usually wears to events, but he was as enthusiastic as ever.

"We. Want. Meg!" Kung shouted, without warning and at the top of his lungs, at regular intervals throughout Whitman's Koreatown visit, causing the candidate to smile as startled shoppers looked on.

"She said I was her most enthusiastic campaigner," Kung said.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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