Power and Politics - I am Not the Yellow Peril

The life and times of an Asian American activist who tells all the truth (and dishes news and analysis) but with a leftwards slant.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Updated: Advice to campaigns on AAPI outreach; Hillary and AAPIs

It has to be said that the Hillary campaign is a self-correcting machine. They snubbed the Asian American media in California (of all places!) and then they recently hired Press Secretary Jin Chon, who worked AAPI press for Kerry in 2004. I personally wouldn't be surprised if APIA leaders and media figures didn't play a heavy role in that decision. It looks like he's handling ethnic and LGBT press. [Update: Hillary hired Fabiola Rodriguez-Ciampoli to be "Director of Hispanic Communications" (their phrasing not mine) - but this is a really smart hire. Fabiola is ex-DNC, ex-DSCC under Harry Reid, ex-Gephardt, etc. Basically she is one of the 2 or 3 Latino spinmeisters in DC and a great add. Like I said, Hillary hires the top operatives.]

In comparing Hillary's AAPI leadership versus that of Edwards, she definitely has more stars and heavy hitters (both nonprofit and elected leaders) and she does a good job of not only releasing a longer list, but also one broken down specifically by ethnicity, which is a nod to the diversity of the community. The electeds she has are in the big money, high density APIA states - Cali, Illinois, New York, Texas. But there's an easy explanation for Clinton's star APAs:

1) Return to power. The Bill Clinton administration was the last time national APA leaders found themselves in positions of significant power - whether as political appointees, or as policy drivers with a seat at the table. It's no surprise that most heads of APA nonprofits are Democratic-leaning, and Bill's was the last Democratic administration. APA leaders have been lost in the wilderness, and seeking redemption and a return to power. Additionally, it's true that the Clinton administration had the highest numbers of APA appointees at that point in history. Many of the names listed were appointees.

2) Return of the King. Bill Clinton as a fundraiser and electeds' need for cash. Bill is easily one of the biggest draws to a fundraiser, and there's little doubt that even the potential of him helping out is mouthwatering. Plus he is quite the charmer and flatterer, so even a small town elected's going fall for the King. And don't forget the whole inevitability argument - electeds like to bet on a sure thing, a known quantity, and Hillary still has the best and most seasoned staff. APAs are a pragmatic bunch, and we want to go with the winner and the associated rewards. If I were the betting type and I had a cool hundred, even I would have to lay $40 on Hillary, $30 on Obama, $20 on Edwards and $10 on Richardson, regardless of personal preferences which I am still trying to sort out.

3) Biggest players still playing hard to get. In terms of her elected official support, having Rep. Doris Mitsui fulfills dual roles as an woman (highlighting Hillary's historic candidacy) and as an Asian American. (But she hasn't been as vocal a representative of the community as Congressman Mike Honda. Who probably can't or won't endorse anyone until later in the game, since he's a DNC Vice Chair. Color me impressed when a candidate gets him.) Doris' late husband, Rep. Bob Mitsui, was a Clintonista who supported free trade policies and the "third way." Clinton has the top (and only) APA electeds in New York City, some of the highest ranking and most visible Dems in California (although there's more parity here with the Edwards' folks.) She's got 2 of 3 of the Texas electeds that I know of (missing is Hubert Vo). Pretty much, these are the three states that really matter for fundraising purposes (and these are the 3 with the largest APA populations. Of course, she also has the State Senate President of Hawaii, the only state with more APIA density.

The renewed attention to our community is a sign that the Clinton campaign is back in fighting form and not just playing "presumptive nominee" (though that happens as well.) I'm glad to see that they are leaving no stone unturned.

A lesson to the Edwards and Obama campaigns: you can still catch up, but move quickly cos the Clintonistas are sharp.

And message to Obama camp: Where the hell is your AAPI supporter list? I understand not wanting to divide into red and blue states, and that there is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America but Clinton has a sharp as tacks base vote director. Her campaign is savvy enough to hire the right institutional players in the right places (do you think Villagoraisa's endorsement came from nowhere? His fundraiser works for Clinton in California, and the guy deserves a HUGE raise. If you look at the bevy of Californian APA leaders who endorsed alone, he is working it - tho credit goes to others as well.) Edwards, even with a smaller campaign chest, is putting VISIBLE money and time into the community. At the end of the day, you can say you grew up in Indonesia, and that you were raised in APIA-dense Hawaii, but to some people, the right gestures & people count. And don't forget that timing is everything. Plus, it gets sort of embarrassing when knowledgeable politicos ask about your APA support and there's no hard evidence of prominent individuals. If you have a list of soft supporters (and I'm sure there more than one national nonprofit leader in there), you should make the ask and confirm them. Same goes for Edwards.

We will see if Clinton's superior operatives and operation of old school influencers turns into votes, but don't forget that for all the import of a nonprofit leader or the money of a johnny-come-lately i-banking mogul, it's the politicians who have the machines that drive the votes. And Clinton's currently got the upper hand there. You can build new networks and excite new voters like Dean (and thank god for fresh blood) but it's harder, more expensive, and less predictable to pave new roads. Meanwhile, like any transportation project (metaphor), Hillary knows that it's all about the pork. Clinton's ensuring the right palms get greased, the right words are spoken into the correct set of waiting ears. She's using existing roads to power, and she may get there first.

PS: Totally unrelated but funny - Newt's Spanish tutor claims he spends hours on learning the language. I'm sure Latinos everywhere are relieved to find this out.

PPS: Update #2 Back to topic at hand, and more praise to Hillaryland - they put some money where their mouths are and invested staff into California, which has the biggest APIA population in the country. They hired an Asian American deputy political director for the state, Connie Lee. Hillary's investment in California is wise politically and financially - she's hedging her bets on the pre-Feb. 5th states and on the mega Geb 5th election and California's massive windfall of electoral votes. Meanwhile, Californian donors will feel good that Hillary cares enough to hire not just fundraisers but also actual field staff. They will feel like their votes actually count, and this will help Clinton raise more money. Win-win her her campaign. Plus, Clinton also just installed a new Iowa director, the fierce and fabulous Theresa Vilmain who is one of the top political hands today. Hillary's campaign is firing on all cylinders right now and making all the right staff moves. I gotta say I am impressed and concerned for the other campaigns, and feeling like I'm urging them to play catch up.

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