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Reflections from the 8th CD Candidate Forum: Targeting Beyond Mainstream


Last month, one of the 8th Congressional District 8 Candidates Forums was sponsored by the Coordination Council of Chinese American Associations (CCCAA). This forum targeted the Chinese American community, and by extension the other Asian American communities, in Montgomery County. The forum brought over a 100 people – couples and families, young and old, all packed in the auditorium of Cabin John Middle School. The Asian American voters were eager to hear why the 10 candidates wanted to be on the ballot for Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s seat in November.

After two hours of listening to the candidates address issues surrounding open primaries, limits to Asian Americans being admitted into prestigious universities, racial profiling, and economic opportunity and competitiveness, I walked away with key takeaways when targeting ethnic communities at forum events. Here they are:IMG_1628 (1)

  1. Have volunteers and supporters who speak other languages to help constituents register to vote. Both English and Chinese language materials were available for those who wished to register to vote on the spot.  This showed respect to potential voters who may not speak English as their primary language.
  1. Candidates had messages tailored to the audience. It is vital for candidates to know what issues resonate with the ethnic communities.  The candidates (with the exception of the first candidate) all followed suit by sharing their personal stories of adversity, immigration experiences, and heritage roots.
  1. Community groups set up tables alongside the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County. What made this room so packed were the six other Chinese American and Asian Pacific American groups that were present to show their support for the forum.  The political event was also an opportunity for them to publicize their mission to engage members of the community, and encourage them get involved in politics or public service.

  1. Ethnic Media Press Covered the Forum. There were 11 Chinese language print and online outlets who sent reporters to the candidate forum. There were no mainstream media outlets present to cover the forum, which means the candidates were earning ethnic media coverage instead.  Candidates should not discredit specialty media press coverage because it sends the signal that candidates do care about the ethnic communities. In fact, ethnic media reporters are more likely to provide positive coverage of candidates and make links between the candidates’ policy platforms and their audience.

Remember to vote in the Primary by April 26! Early voter has already begun.  Find your voting poll location here: https://voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/PollingPlaceSearch

How can candidates make the most out of forums targeted to diverse communities? Let us know on Twitter: @abuoyedpath, #politicswithin

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Tonia Bui

About Tonia Bui

Tonia Bui is currently a strategic communications consultant. Most recently, she served as treasurer for the Hoan Dang for County Council campaign in Montgomery County. Tonia previously served as the Communications Director for the Nguyen for Delegate Campaign (VA-67) in 2013 and led the Asian American voter outreach efforts for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign (WA-08) in 2008. Her efforts to build stakeholder engagement stems from her experiences serving as the Member Outreach Assistant to Vice Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-34). She also previously worked for U.S. Senator Barack Obama (IL-13) and California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (CA-12). Her work has been published by the Harvard Asian American Policy Review and cited by scholars of the political science textbook, Campaigns on the Cutting Edge. Tonia holds a Master in Public Policy from American University and a B.A. in Mass Communications and Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Read more of Tonia's blog Politics Within Politics.


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