In their own words: AAPI voters in Nevada talk economy, guns, race The AAPI population is the fastest-growing demographic in Nevada and a rising political force. Five voters spoke to NPR about what issues are top of mind ahead of the midterm elections.

In their own words: AAPI voters in Nevada talk economy, guns, race

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nevada is holding primary elections today. It's a state with a booming population, in large part because of the growing numbers of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who've moved there. It's the fastest-growing demographic in Nevada and a rising force in elections there. NPR correspondent Susan Davis has been talking with folks about how they are trying to leverage their political power in the state, and she joins us now. Hey, Sue.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: How did you start looking into this?

DAVIS: Well, Nevada is a critical swing state, and these are voters who now make up 12% of the state population and about 8% of the electorate. Now, I realize that might not sound like a lot. But I spoke to Eric Jeng with the Asian Community Development Center (ph), and he told me it's a critical bloc when it comes to elections.

ERIC JENG: 2020, 2018 and 2016 proves that the Asian vote a lot of time ended up deciding the election. That is the margin of victory. I don't believe a candidate can win without winning the Asian vote.

DAVIS: And this year, Nevada's races for governor, Senate and three of their four House seats are all considered toss-ups. In each of those races, there's a Democratic incumbent seeking reelection. So last week, in an office park about 15 minutes off the strip in Las Vegas, I gathered a group of five AAPI voters. And I'll let them introduce themselves.

CECILIA WINCHELL: My name is Cecilia Winchell. I'm half Chinese, half white. I'm 20 years old. And I'm registered with the Democratic Party.

TINA KWAN: I'm Tina Kwan. I'm a Chinese American woman. I'm 38 years old and a pediatric cardiologist. And I'm a registered Democrat.

ASH MIRCHANDANI: I'm Ash Mirchandani. I'm 51 years old. I am registered nonpartisan.

BRIAN ALMERO: Brian Almero. I'm registered as an independent as well. I am in the real estate mortgage industry.

MC BALICANTA: My name is M.C. Balicanta. I'm Filipino American. I work at the Golden Nugget. And I'm also registered as Democrat.

DAVIS: We talked about whether their racial identity affects their political decision-making.

MIRCHANDANI: I think people should try not to make race a big issue in elections because it doesn't serve anybody.

DAVIS: Tina, what do you think?

KWAN: I humbly disagree. I go to work every day, and I see - not crimes necessarily, but racially motivated behavior that is unspoken. And until we see a government that represents the spectrum of all of us, then representation and the emphasis on representation still matters.

DAVIS: What do you think, Cecilia?

WINCHELL: I think on the one hand, some of the things that the Democratic Party does is a little performative. There is an emphasis on having things look diverse but perhaps not including the actual perspectives.

DAVIS: Several said Democrats cannot assume the AAPI vote is a natural ally.

KWAN: It's so easy for us to say, oh, whatever, brown people, yellow people, colored people should all be Democratic, right? No, because within those experiences have been failed socialist governments, failed dictatorships, communism. A lot of my family is not politically engaged whatsoever because they're so disenfranchised with government.

DAVIS: You nodded when she said that. Is that true for you, too?

WINCHELL: Yeah, especially, like, in the Chinese community. You come from a country that - you can care about politics, but you'll never affect it. So most people don't end up caring about it.

ALMERO: Yeah.

WINCHELL: But my mom votes when I tell her to.

DAVIS: But these voters do plan to vote this year. The midterms could be a referendum on President Biden. So I asked Cecilia, the youngest here, for her thoughts.

WINCHELL: I think Joe Biden is one of the oldest people (laughter). Yeah, he's been around for a long time, and I think that there's some advantages to that. But I think that perhaps being around for such a long time perpetuates some of the problems that we've seen in this country.

DAVIS: Tina, you're a Democrat. What do you think about Biden?

KWAN: I think President Biden is doing the best he can with a really terrible hand.

DAVIS: What's the terrible hand?

KWAN: Emerging from four years of chaotic national politics, inheriting not the tail end of the pandemic, just Act 2 of the pandemic, an economy that was set on a path that he did not lay out, having made promises that are not entirely in his power to fulfill.

DAVIS: Ash, we should say - full disclosure - you did some work for the Biden campaign in 2020. You worked with Asian outreach in the state of Nevada. I mean, he's about as popular as Donald Trump was. What do you attribute that to?

MIRCHANDANI: I think we often confuse economic forces with the president's policy. I think his biggest challenge today is inflation.

DAVIS: Inflation was a shared concern for all of these voters.

BALICANTA: Right now all the prices goes up - the rent, the gas, all the groceries. And I have two children. My oldest is here with me. So we're just renting at my co-worker's house, just two bedroom. It's really hard to, like, you know, put aside money that you wanted to buy a house in the future.

DAVIS: What about you, Brian?

ALMERO: I agree with MC. The real estate mortgage industry - that's my field - and there's rents that are going up twice because they can. Our locals here can't afford, you know, to buy or even rent a home 'cause our, you know, wages hasn't really gone up. I mean, you know, we're struggling every day just to make ends meet.

MIRCHANDANI: For me, the biggest thing is how do I retain my staff and how do I pay them what they need to be paid or what they expect to be paid? I mean, I cannot raise my prices by 20, 30%.

DAVIS: We are sitting a short drive from the site of a 2017 mass shooting at a music festival that left 60 people dead. I asked how that experience and the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, had impacted their views on guns. There was a clear gender divide.

BALICANTA: Some guns, I think, that is - belong to war, not belong to the street. They shouldn't allow 18-years-old to have credit card and purchase guns without background check.

DAVIS: Brian, what about you?

ALMERO: I am a supporter of guns. I mean, I am a gun owner myself 'cause we have the right to bear arms here. I mean, but I do agree with MC about, you know, having some thorough background checks.

DAVIS: Do you think it should be harder to buy AR-15s?

ALMERO: If it's something to - where it's assault rifles, I would say you have to have stricter background checks on it.

DAVIS: But not limit the purchase of them.

ALMERO: Exactly, not limit the purchase of it.

DAVIS: What do you think, Ash?

MIRCHANDANI: I think common-sense gun legislation - background checks is one way. A registry is the other way. Taking away gun is not the answer. But by taking away guns, you're going to empower the bad guys.

MARTIN: We've been listening to Susan Davis talk with AAPI voters in Nevada. So, Sue, I mean, clearly, like many Americans, they're thinking about the economy, and they're thinking about guns. Did they tell you how those opinions are shaping their vote this year?

DAVIS: Well, I asked if their minds were already made up, and three of the five of them said they were. But MC and Brian said they were not.

ALMERO: I kind of want to do my own research for all the candidates first before I really make my decision.

DAVIS: What about you, MC?

BALICANTA: Whatever my union go for it, I'll do it.

(LAUGHTER)

DAVIS: That is the Culinary Workers Union. It's a 60,000-member powerhouse in Nevada politics. I checked with the union, and they told me that 15% of their membership is now AAPI.

MARTIN: NPR correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, thanks for this. We appreciate it.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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