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Candidates of color get off the sidelines in the age of Trump: 'The soul of America is at stake right now'

For Dave Min, Election Day was a wake-up call. President Donald Trump's travel ban was a catalyst.The Orange C...

Posted: Jan 28, 2018 2:18 PM
Updated: Jan 28, 2018 2:18 PM

For Dave Min, Election Day was a wake-up call. President Donald Trump's travel ban was a catalyst.

The Orange County, California, law professor and former DC political hand had never seriously considered running for office and had no real organization behind him. But as the son of two Korean immigrants, Min felt the President's decision to temporarily suspend immigration from some predominantly Muslim countries "was a huge slap in the face."

"It felt very personal being the son of immigrants myself to feel like this country was going to single out people based on their country of origin and their religion," Min told CNN in an interview.

While Min felt pulled to run for office, he conceded it was a tough decision. "Last fall, I was coaching soccer and barbecuing every chance I could get -- I was a total dad," he said. "But on the other hand, the stakes are so high. The soul of America is at stake right now."

Min ran the numbers: In a highly educated, affluent district where Latinos and Asians make up a quarter of voters, he believes Democrats can win if they can turn out voters like him.

"A campaign by me would present a unique profile that would be able to capture a lot of votes," Min said. "As someone put it to me, you can bring out votes that other candidates can't get."

Min, who is challenging Republican Rep. Mimi Walters, is part of a powerful groundswell of young, largely progressive, candidates of color entering politics for the first time in forceful opposition to Trump, energized and driven by policies that they say are dangerous to minority communities. And a phalanx of organizers in communities across the country are hoping to turn the energy into electoral victories.

Varun Nikore, the president of AAPI Victory Fund, said there is a record number of Asian American Pacific Islander candidates running for Congress this year, with as many as 60 potentially on the ballot in 2018.

Run For Something, a national group started after the election to recruit and train Democratic candidates, has recruited more than 15,000 potential candidates, according to co-founder Amanda Litman, a former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer. Two-thirds of those candidates are women, and one-third identify as persons of color.

'Standing with my sisters' and against Trump

Of the Democrats running to unseat Republican Rep. Randy Hultgren in his suburban Illinois district, Lauren Underwood is the only person of color and only woman in the mix.

The registered nurse and adviser to the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration said that while she'd spent her life in public service and thought she might seek office herself one day, she didn't expect 2018 to be her year.

But then Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, giving Republicans full control of Washington. And Hultgren, who Underwood says promised not to vote for a Republican health care bill that excluded coverage for pre-existing conditions, did it anyway. That was when Underwood knew she was in.

"I feel like every day there's a battle for the core of our democracy," she said. 'People are stepping up and doing things they've never done before."

Underwood's district is more than 85% white -- she said she's "not a traditional candidate" coming out of a district like hers, and that her candidacy was a "surprise" to many traditional African-American political groups.

"African-Americans have traditionally been elected to Congress from those Voting Rights Act Districts ... that have traditionally represented, all-African-American or majority-African American districts," she said.

She secured early support from groups on the rise like Higher Heights for America, a group with the goal of electing more black women to office; and the Collective PAC, which recruits and supports progressive black candidates.

"Black women as candidates don't get the attention that they deserve or need to really propel their candidacies forward," Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a co-founder of Higher Heights, told CNN. "Just about every black woman that we have talked to has been told, it's not your turn. That, I think, is probably the No. 1 barrier."

National Democrats can be slow to help-

A number of African-American progressive organizers tell CNN that traditional donors and party gatekeepers often weigh in late in the process on behalf of black Democrats, leaving them at a disadvantage when pitted against well-funded white opponents in contested primaries.

Stefanie Brown James, the co-founder of Collective PAC, agreed and said that her group wants to help make black progressive Democrats more visible, particularly to deep-pocketed donors that can sustain campaigns.

"Especially if you're running for Congress, you need that money fast, you need it early and you need it often," James, who was the national African-American vote director for President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign, told CNN.

Collective PAC has already endorsed 18 candidates, with plans to unveil a new slate of endorsed candidates soon. In the coming weeks the group will also roll out its national finance council with a goal of raising more money for black progressives, particularly from African-American donors.

"We feel it's very important for us to make sure that these black candidates become known and top of mind for individual donors to target their consistent support," James said.

Underwood said that the grassroots movement has been critical.

"It's special for me being a young woman, a young woman of color to stand with my sisters in this time," she said. "In this time of resistance, activist groups are really led by women. They've sustained our campaign. They're our donors, they've been that groundswell support that's buoyed our campaign."

'The greatest Latino political organizer in history'

Mai Khanh Tran, a Southern California pediatrician, is battling one of the nation's worst flu seasons. She's also the only woman running in the Democratic primary to replace Republican Ed Royce, who announced earlier this year that he does not plan to seek re-election.

Tran, who was born in Vietnam and came to the United States at age 9, said that on the day after the election she didn't want to go into work.

"But I did what most women do," she said. "I went in to take care of my patients."

That day, one of her patients was a young child with a brain tumor whose family had just gotten insurance because of the Affordable Care Act. With Republicans in control of Washington, the family could lose that coverage.

After Election Day, Tran began to speak publicly about the need to protect the Affordable Care Act, but when she saw Royce vote to repeal it, she began to be able to see herself in Congress.

"It was really the vote that was in Congress by our representative that showed me the need for someone like me, a mom, a fierce mom, a dedicated doctor, to really run for Congress," Tran told CNN.

Since announcing her campaign in a district that Clinton won that district by 9 points in 2016, Tran has secured the backing of groups like AAPI Victory and EMILY's List, among others.

EMILY's List said earlier this week that more than 30,000 women interested in running for office have contacted the group -- just 920 did so during the 2016 election cycle.

"2018 is not only about record number, it's also about historic firsts," said EMILY's List executive director Emily Cain, adding that the group "fully intends to elect the first-ever Latinas in Illinois and Texas."

This year's slate of minority candidates also show how the groups backing them are working more closely together to change the complexion of politics in the US.

Varun Nikore, the president of AAPI Victory Fund, said that his group will be working more seamlessly with other ethnic groups "because we think there's more power in this coalition process ... but also because we need the establishment to pay better attention to communities of color."

Mayra Macias, the political director for Latino Victory Project agreed, adding that of the districts targeted by the national party establishment are districts with heavy Latino populations, and that Latino Victory is working to field candidates in those competitive districts.

"Very often, the line was there aren't Latinos for these seats, so we're just going to have to go with a candidate that's already filed," she said. "Given the energy on the ground, that's not the case. There are people excited and ready to run."

"The silver lining for us this year is we're seeing that Donald Trump may be the greatest Latino political organizer in history," Macias said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 289303

Reported Deaths: 3434
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin616511100
Ramsey25903487
Anoka20522218
Dakota20096183
Washington13066109
Stearns1291098
St. Louis7935101
Scott782754
Wright702436
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Sherburne538640
Clay463856
Carver432213
Blue Earth387112
Rice386033
Kandiyohi373819
Crow Wing334631
Nobles298729
Chisago29358
Otter Tail282818
Benton278642
Winona258128
Mower241323
Douglas237631
Polk234423
Morrison219524
Lyon201911
McLeod195610
Beltrami194615
Becker187512
Goodhue185727
Steele17826
Itasca176124
Isanti174316
Todd171612
Carlton165710
Nicollet150823
Freeborn14465
Mille Lacs141630
Le Sueur138110
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Cass12849
Brown125011
Pine12458
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Roseau10503
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Houston6422
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Pennington5856
Kanabec54912
Murray5493
Swift5366
Faribault5081
Pope4990
Stevens4643
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Jackson4361
Unassigned38759
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Koochiching3535
Wilkin3465
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Norman3227
Lincoln3171
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Mahnomen2704
Grant2516
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Cook600

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 222064

Reported Deaths: 2319
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk33019331
Linn13877164
Scott1085683
Black Hawk10730134
Woodbury10159121
Johnson935536
Dubuque907691
Story669721
Dallas624657
Pottawattamie612469
Sioux364625
Webster353033
Marshall343545
Cerro Gordo342644
Clinton319839
Buena Vista300014
Des Moines281719
Muscatine280968
Warren274011
Plymouth268941
Wapello251171
Jones227913
Jasper212443
Marion201719
Lee197916
Carroll195422
Bremer191312
Henry18037
Crawford173015
Benton166217
Tama152240
Jackson142113
Delaware140221
Washington137414
Dickinson134210
Boone134011
Mahaska125327
Wright12156
Buchanan115010
Clay11314
Hardin113010
Page11134
Hamilton10809
Clayton10715
Harrison106129
Cedar104913
Calhoun10487
Kossuth10236
Floyd102216
Mills10177
Fayette10159
Lyon10058
Poweshiek97913
Butler9746
Winneshiek95412
Iowa92312
Winnebago90223
Hancock8497
Louisa83916
Grundy83811
Chickasaw8354
Sac8297
Cherokee8134
Cass79721
Appanoose77310
Mitchell7704
Allamakee76811
Union7546
Humboldt7525
Shelby75010
Emmet74724
Guthrie73715
Franklin72921
Jefferson6852
Madison6734
Palo Alto6454
Unassigned6320
Keokuk5737
Pocahontas5532
Howard5419
Greene5160
Osceola5131
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Taylor4563
Davis4508
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