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As President Trump stoked outrage by calling COVID-19 the "kung flu," presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden was quietly courting Asian American voters.

And Biden's efforts could pad his electoral edge in crucial, culturally diverse battleground states, such as Nevada, Texas, and Georgia.

"Asian Americans are being targeted with violence and subjected to xenophobic rhetoric from the mouth of the president himself," Biden told Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote's presidential forum last weekend.

He added, "Our AAPI community is essential. Period. Period. Not just as essential workers, but essential to the very fabric of this nation."

Asian Americans represent the fast-growing demographic of eligible voters compared to other major races and ethnicities, the Pew Research Center found last month. The group's comprised of about 11 million eligible voters, or 5% of the country's eligible population, up 139% over the past two decades. And the advantage for Biden is that they lean Democratic.

In 2018, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote estimated that more than 40% of Asian Americans identify as Democrats, as opposed to almost 30% who consider themselves Republicans and roughly the same percentage who think of themselves as independents. To put that in context, of the 5 million Asian Americans who voted in 2016, 4% of the total electorate, three-quarters supported Hillary Clinton to the quarter who cast a ballot for Trump.

Now, as November's 2020 general election nears, China's in the spotlight thanks to the novel coronavirus. And Asian Americans are a focus, similar to the "yellow peril" fervor of the mid-1800s.

The Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center received almost 1,900 discrimination and harassment complaints during an eight-week period from the start of the outbreak to mid-May. The incidents, documented by the Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and San Francisco State University, ranged from verbal abuse, such as hearing “yellow n-----” slurs, to death threats.

Both Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council's Manjusha Kulkarni and Cynthia Choi, Chinese for Affirmative Action co-executive director, blame Trump and loyal Republican lawmakers for encouraging ill feelings by describing COVID-19 as the Chinese or Wuhan virus.

But Trump escalated matters this month. He labeled COVID-19 the "kung flu"at his comeback rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before repeating it last week during a trip to Phoenix, Arizona. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied Trump was racially motivated, explaining the president was simply pointing out the virus's origins.

Former President Barack Obama slammed Trump last week for adopting the term, saying it "still shocks and pisses me off." Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic Georgia gubernatorial nominee and floated 2020 vice presidential candidate, said the phrase underscored how "racism is the core of his appeal." Even White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, whose husband George is half-Filipino, said she didn't "agree" with it, though she parroted McEnany's defense. In March, Conway blasted reports that a Trump administration official used it with Asian American CBS reporter Weijia Jiang as "wrong," "highly offensive, and "very hurtful," yet prodded Jiang to reveal her source.

Trump may be tossing proverbial red meat to his base to gin up enthusiasm and counter unfavorable polling. But he's doing himself a disservice in states such as Nevada, Texas, and Georgia, according to Democratic California Rep. Ted Lieu. Trump desperately needs the latter two states in his column on Election Night if he wants a second term in the White House.

"Asian Americans now make up 11% of the electorate in NV, 5.5% in TX and 4.7% in GA. So go ahead @realDonaldTrump and keep saying racist stuff like Kung Flu. Also, you are making fun of a pandemic that’s killed over 120,000 Americans in four months. See you in November," Lieu tweeted.

Asian Americans now make up 11% of the electorate in NV, 5.5% in TX and 4.7% in GA. So go ahead @realDonaldTrump and keep saying racist stuff like Kung Flu. Also, you are making fun of a pandemic that’s killed over 120,000 Americans in four months. See you in November. https://t.co/V9iW6ASOqU

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 24, 2020

First reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, Trump and Biden have each leveraged criticism of China's transparency regarding the virus outbreak on the campaign trail, against China, and each other.

The precarious U.S.-China relationship was already being litigated by the rivals before the virus. Republicans highlighted Biden repeatedly downplaying China as an economic threat during his primary. And both camps ripped the other for familial business connections to China, Trump through the Trump Organization, and Biden through his son Hunter. But the pandemic upped the ante.

Outside groups such as pro-Trump super PAC America First Action spent $10 million in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania on ads pinning “Beijing Biden” as a China sympathizer. For the video, the group dug up footage from his half-century in public life where he'd lavished praise on the country. Biden's team pushed back days later with its own spot, claiming Trump had "rolled over for the Chinese." The campaign has been boosted by Biden-aligned super PAC American Bridge, which ran a similar blitz worth $15 million.

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Trump's Reelection Operation Hires 1,500 Field Staffers

By ZEKE MILLER, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican National Committee and President Donald Trump’s campaign say they have now hired 1,500 field staffers, aiming to convert their financial advantage over Democrats into votes in November.

Trump Victory, the joint field effort of the two organizations, announced Monday the hiring of an additional 300 staffers set to hit 20 target states by Wednesday in the largest field operation over mounted by a Republican.

The goal is to turn out votes on behalf of Republicans up and down the ticket this fall. The Trump team says it is on pace to eclipse the 2.2 million volunteer total that helped reelect President Barack Obama in 2012.

The announcement comes as public and private polls show Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden across key battleground states and nationally. The president’s team argues that polls also showed Trump down in 2016 but he nonetheless pulled off a win.

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel said the staff and volunteers are looking to use the RNC’s vast data trove and voter scores to reach a dwindling swath of swing voters and the far larger universe of low-propensity voters — many of whom already like Trump but are unlikely to vote.

A field program alone doesn’t win elections — and four years ago it was Trump’s ground game that lagged Hillary Clinton’s — but in a close election, the GOP argues, it can spell the difference between victory and defeat.

“In an election like this, where it’s going to come down to a few thousand votes in a couple of states, that’s when your ground game matters,” McDaniel said.

Republicans are quick to note that their staffer count in the field is more than double that of Biden, whose goal was 600 field staffers by the end of June. Additionally, the RNC staffers have been on the ground for years in some cases, while Biden has only just recently begun rolling out his roster of battleground state directors.

And while Biden’s campaign has out-raised Trump in recent months, Trump’s team believes its cash-on-hand advantage and hiring head start give it an insurmountable edge in reaching out to voters.

Both the Trump and Biden field operations went virtual largely overnight in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic hit. Trump’s has begun resuming some in-person campaign activities as states have lifted some virus restrictions.

“We have the biggest and best ground game operation ever seen,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh. “We’ve built lasting relationships with voters on the ground that will power President Trump to victory in November. Joe Biden scarcely emerges from his basement, is woefully behind in state organizations and lacks any enthusiasm behind his candidacy.”

Biden's campaign dismissed the criticism and asserted a broader advantage by the Democrat.

“In this moment of crisis, Joe Biden’s message is resonating with voters because he has displayed the responsibility and leadership that the American people expect of a president — whereas Donald Trump has careened from failure to failure, undermining the fight against the coronavirus pandemic with his instability and mismanagement while spreading hate to divide our country at a time when we need to come together more than ever,” Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said.

The RNC has invested more than $350 million on data, technology and field programs since 2013. A key tool is “Trump Talk,” which harnesses both political and commercial data to provide staffers and volunteers with a dynamic script to use when contacting voters in person or over the phone.

“If you’re knocking the wrong doors, then you’re wasting effort,” McDaniel said.

Already the Trump effort has made more than 55 million voter contacts this presidential cycle — more than it made in all of 2016 — and amassed 1.4 million volunteers.

To be counted as a volunteer, “you’ve taken an action that we measure: a phone call, a door knock. Some kind of voter contact,” said RNC chief of staff Richard Walters. That’s important, said McDaniel, because "the best way to change the mind of a voter is for someone they value to have a conversation with them.”

___

Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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