The Asian Chamber of Commerce on Thursday endorsed Republican Mark Hutchison for lieutenant governor, spurning U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s Democratic choice, Lucy Flores, after the senator spoke to the group and praised it as a “significant part of what Nevada is all about.”
Backing from Asian business leaders in Southern Nevada could boost Hutchison in the close-knit community as the ethnic group expands its population and political influence. The endorsements are published in half a dozen Asian publications, in Chinese, Korean, Japanese and in the Filipino language of Tagalog.
GOP Gov. Brian Sandoval is backing Hutchison for the No. 2 job in the state, setting up a political tug-of-war between the governor and Reid.
“I think this is a very important endorsement,” Hutchison said, then quoted Reid, who had noted that Asians are the fastest-growing minority group in Nevada. “Having the endorsement of the chamber of commerce is a real honor for me.”
Reid left the luncheon after his speech and missed the formal endorsement announcements. But organizers had placed before each diner a one-page list of the chosen candidates with their photos included. Flores had RSVP’d for the event the day before, according to the chamber, but was a no-show Thursday.
The race for lieutenant governor is highly competitive, partly because of speculation that Sandoval might not finish his four-year term if he wins re-election as expected on Nov. 4. The governor has said he plans to complete the job. But he could run against Reid, who’s up for re-election in 2016, or be offered a Cabinet post or another federal judgeship. He also could be considered as a vice presidential running mate in 2016.
Sandoval would be freer to decide if he has a GOP lieutenant governor, who would move into the governor’s job if Sandoval leaves early.
Normally, endorsements don’t mean too much to voters, although candidates can tout them to show support from influential groups.
As an example, Assemblywoman Flores, D-Las Vegas, recently won the Latin Chamber of Commerce’s endorsement, but only after Reid intervened. The group had planned to offer a dual endorsement of Flores and Hutchison, but Reid called Hispanic leaders to change their minds, winning a sole endorsement for Flores.
Reid has long been close to the Asian community, relying on their Democratic-leaning constituency to help him and other Democrats win elections, including his 2010 re-election bid.
The chamber’s Political Action Committee also endorsed Sandoval for re-election and state Sen. Barbara Cegavske, R-Las Vegas, for secretary of state over Nevada Treasurer Kate Marshall, a Democrat. When Cegavske was a member of the Nevada Assembly, she represented Chinatown in the Spring Mountain Road area. She said she’s been a member of the Asian chamber since the late 1990s and it has endorsed her in each election.
Nevada attorney general candidate Ross Miller, a Democrat who’s now secretary of state, won backing from the Asian chamber over Republican Adam Laxalt, an attorney and former U.S. Navy judge advocate general.
In other races, the chamber endorsed Joe Lombardo for Clark County sheriff, Clark County Commissioner Susan Brager, Assemblyman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Irene Bustamante Adams, D-Las Vegas. For Clark County School Board, the chamber backed Stavan Corbett Sr., Carolyn Edwards and G Erin Cranor.
Duncan R. Lee and Dr. Chen Young, co-chairmen of the seven-member PAC, said the chamber endorsed in only 11 races because those candidates took part in interviews and either represented districts in their community and were important to Asian interests. A candidate’s party affiliation doesn’t matter, they said.
“We’re very nonpartisan,” Lee said in an interview. “We choose candidates who are in the best interests of the Asian business community and education.”
Young said the chamber has had an ongoing relationship with Hutchison since he became a senator and began attending Asian events. Lee said choosing between Hutchison and Flores wasn’t easy.
“They were both very qualified,” Lee said. “It was a tough decision.”
Asked if Reid tried to influence their pick, both men said no, that the chamber’s PAC had no communication with him or his office about endorsements.
“We want to focus on the issues and who’s the best person for the Asian community,” Lee said.
The growing Asian population can be a key swing vote in close races in Nevada, although they’re not as powerful as Hispanics.
Asians account for about 7.7 percent of Nevada’s population, double what it was a decade ago, according to the U.S. Census.
Reid didn’t make a speech at the chamber’s monthly lunch. Instead, he took questions on a range of topics from the audience. In closing, the Senate majority leader offered high praise for the organization and joked about the ethnic group’s reputation.
“I don’t think you’re smarter than anybody else, but you’ve convinced a lot of us you are,” Reid said, drawing laughter from the crowd of about 100 people.
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