Republicans see a set of diverse candidates as their strongest recruits in a handful of congressional seats the party needs to hold on to in order to keep control of the House in this year’s midterm elections.
Democrats are running a more diverse crop of candidates – more minorities, more women, more members of the LGBT community – than the party has ever had before for Congress.
And in some of the toughest races for the GOP this fall, where the incumbent is not seeking re-election, Republicans are running candidates who would diversify their mostly white male House caucus.
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All the candidates are running in districts that Democrat Hillary Clinton won or came close to winning in 2016. And several of them say they’re breaking with Republican President Donald Trump on some matters of policy and personality.
Young Kim, a Korean immigrant, is running to replace retiring Rep. Ed Royce in Orange County, California, where Asian-Americans, Latinos and whites each make up about one-third of the population. That’s part of why Clinton won the district by 9 points in 2016. But Kim, a state assemblywoman and former Royce staffer, said she is uniquely positioned to win over portions of the electorate that typically favor Democrats.
“What sets me apart from the rest of the field is my personal story as an immigrant,” she said. “If we can solidify the Asian votes – specifically the Korean votes – I think we have a winning chance here. This is a voting bloc that is engaged now because they’re excited about having an Asian-American, and especially a Korean-American, representing them in Congress.”
On Trump, Kim said she was running as her own person.
“I don’t work for President Trump,” she said. She added that while she believes the President has made positive regulatory and economic changes, “just like everybody else, I have concern about his rhetoric and some of his policies.”
Kim said Royce had urged her to enter the race to fill his seat and pitched her to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, as “the best candidate to replace him.”
“He’s done his part, and by the time he called me, he assured me, ‘Young, I know you can do this,’ ” she said.
Among some of the other candidates running are Lea Marquez Peterson, a local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce CEO running for Rep. Martha McSally’s seat in southern Arizona; and Tony Ghee, an African-American investment banker and Army Reserve major who is seeking Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen’s seat in New Jersey. Marie Elvira Salazar, a Cuban-American TV journalist, is running in south Florida’s 27th District for the seat of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
All these candidates still have primaries they must win, with former state legislators among those opposing Kim and a current assemblyman in the race against Ghee.
Ghee highlighted “gender, or what I would call overall ‘people equality,’ ” as a top issue. He said he’d focus on veterans’ care and lowering taxes.
“I’m not in the race to run for or against the President,” he said.
Marquez Peterson, the former owner of a chain of gas stations and convenience stores whose Tucson-based district is a key battleground for both the 2nd District House seat and a Senate seat this fall, said she highlights McSally and other members of Arizona’s delegation on the campaign trail more often than Trump.
She criticized Trump’s handling of free trade, noting that 110,000 jobs in the district depend on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“People ask me a lot about President Trump, and I talk about areas in which I agree and don’t agree,” she said. “I’m an independent voice.”
National Republicans say candidates like Kim, Marquez Peterson and Ghee stepped forward on their own – seeing openings that they believe they are uniquely capable of filling within the party’s ranks – and didn’t require a strong recruiting push.
“It’s very much them on their own accord stepping forward and running,” said an official at the National Republican Congressional Committee. “But it’s a good thing for the Republican Party to have people from different walks of life, different experiences, different backgrounds discussing our Republican message.”