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Asian-Americans could rule polls in US

FALLS CHURCH, Virginia -- From the stall where he sells newspapers and scarves in the colors of the former South Vietnam, Tony Nguyen has been watching the tight U.S. presidential election play out before his eyes.

Representatives for President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney have been frequent visitors to the Vietnamese restaurants and beauty salons here in Washington's Virginia suburbs, seeking what could be critical votes in a neck-and-neck race.

“If the Vietnamese all vote for one candidate, it could make a very big difference in a close state like Virginia,” Nguyen said over a table of community newspapers with headlines about the Nov. 6 election.

Often overlooked in past elections, Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They make up around 5 percent of the U.S. population but their numbers could surpass winning candidates' margins of victory in battleground states such as Virginia, Nevada, Florida and Colorado.

If trends prevail, Asian Americans will likely boost Obama. He won two-thirds of Asian American votes in 2008, a swift rise from the 32 percent who voted for fellow Democrat Bill Clinton when he was first elected in 1992.

“This is a historic shift. The last time you've seen an immigrant group undergo such a major shift was among Jewish voters between the 1920s and 1940s” when they also rallied behind the Democrats, said Karthick Ramakrishnan, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Ramakrishnan is co-author of the National Asian American Survey, a poll of 3,034 adults that found that the community tilted heavily toward the Democrats on several key election issues — women's rights, health care and immigration.

Support varied among ethnic groups. Indian Americans were among the most strongly Democratic, with 58 percent saying they identified or leaned toward the party against a mere 7 percent who sided with the Republicans.

Ramakrishnan said that many Asian Americans came of age politically during the Clinton administration, which they recall as a time of prosperity.

Since then, the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and “the increasingly conservative tone on immigration by Republicans has alienated a lot of Asian Americans from the Republicans,” he said.

The survey also showed strong support for the Democrats from Americans of Chinese, Hmong, Japanese and Korean heritage. But Republicans enjoyed a slight edge among Filipino Americans, many of whom are devoutly Catholic.

Republicans have traditionally polled well among Vietnamese Americans, whose older generation fondly remembers the party's staunch anti-communism. But the survey said Obama has made strong inroads in the community, perhaps thanks to his health care reform aimed at increasing coverage to the uninsured.

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