All posts by MPolitics

Republicans in Key Election Races Turn Down Volume on Trump’s Tax Cuts

Right after Republicans in the U.S. Senate passed their income tax overhaul in December, delivering tax cuts to businesses and most American taxpayers, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell was buoyant.

Surrounded by jubilant fellow Republicans, he told reporters, “If we can’t sell this to the American people, we ought to go into another line of work.”

Four months later, McConnell’s attempt at levity could prove prophetic.

The most vulnerable Republican incumbents in the tightest congressional races in the November elections are talking less and less about the tax cuts on Twitter and Facebook, on their campaign and congressional websites and in digital ads, the vital tools of a modern election campaign, a Reuters analysis of their online utterances shows.

All told, the number of tax messages has fallen by 44 percent since January. For several congressmen in tough reelection fights, Steve Knight in California, Jason Lewis in Minnesota, and Don Bacon in Nebraska, messaging is down much more – as much as 72 percent.

Right after the tax law passed, lawmakers piggybacked on a surge of corporate announcements of tax-cut fueled bonuses to employees, wage hikes and job creation plans to tout the benefits of the bill to voters.

As those corporate announcements trailed off in March and

April, so did Republican politicians’ messages about tax relief, the Reuters review found. With the exception of a flurry of news releases on or around April 17, when federal tax returns were due, few incumbents kept up the pace. The Reuters review did not capture candidates’ email, direct mail or private conversations with donors or voters or stump speeches.

Most of the 13 Republican incumbents in the most competitive reelection bids, and their aides, declined to answer Reuters’ questions on why they were communicating less online about the tax cuts. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted from March 14 to 29 found that just 3 percent of American adults were aware of receiving a material benefit from the Republican legislation.

Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, said that is why his party’s candidates need to energize voters by talking about other issues, too, like restricting immigration and stopping Democrats from taking control of the House of Representatives so that they cannot impeach President Donald Trump.

Jesse Hunt, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, acknowledged there “has been a downtick in what voters are hearing from members and businesses on the tax reform front.” He said it was because lawmakers had moved on to other issues.

“Candidates and members need to make sure that they stay focused on what is our signature achievement in this Congress,” Hunt said.

Five of the 13 candidates who did respond to Reuters said they do talk regularly to voters at events.

The Republican tax law sharply cut the corporate tax rate, encouraged corporations to repatriate overseas income at lower rates, and at least temporarily, cut taxes for the wealthy and most other Americans. Many of the benefits to individuals won’t become obvious until they file their tax returns in early 2019, and that is long after the congressional elections.

Koch spending

The election cycle is still in its early stage, so the volume of talk on the tax overhaul could always increase. And even if politicians are reluctant to tout it, conservative financial supporters are showing an eagerness to fill the gap.

Billionaires Charles and David Koch are spending $20 million to promote the benefits of the tax cuts in battleground states with digital ads and even door-to-door canvassing.

Some polling results suggest that taxes are not the burning issue for voters that Republicans hoped they would be. A Quinnipiac University poll released in March said only 8 percent of voters thought taxes was the most important issue in deciding how to vote in the congressional elections. It was fifth, behind healthcare, the economy, gun policy and immigration.

It is also harder for Republicans to talk about lower taxes in states with high local taxes like New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. That also happens to be where 10 of the 17 most competitive congressional races are.

Many taxpayers in those states will pay more in federal taxes because the new law reduces the deduction for state and local tax payments. About one in four Americans expect their state and local income taxes to rise because of the Republican

tax law, while only 11 percent expect them to fall, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

What they do say

Barbara Comstock, locked in a tight race for reelection in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, says she talks about the tax overhaul at campaign events.

The Reuters analysis shows that though she mentioned the benefits of the tax cuts 36 times in January in social media, she did so only 13 times in March and then 22 times in April.

She said in an interview that she is reacting to constituents, whose interests have moved on to other issues.

Don Bacon, of Nebraska’s 2nd district, sees economic growth, and the threats posed by North Korea and Islamic State as the election-winning issues for Republicans. “Taxes will be one of the pillars of our campaign, but more indirectly. In the end, it’s going to be about an economy that’s growing.”

Republican Mike Coffman, whose reelection prospects are rated a toss-up in his Denver-area congressional district, has not been visible at all on taxes via social media. But his campaign spokesman, Tyler Sandberg, said Coffman talks about tax cuts regularly with supporters via email and with small business owners.

When they do talk about taxes, Republican candidates prefer to talk about the tax law in the context of how it is really a form of financial assistance to help families cope with college tuition, buy new cars, make mortgage payments, or even pay for summer camp.

Democrats, meanwhile, are attacking the new tax law as a boon for corporations and the wealthy that will add $1.5 trillion to the federal debt over the next decade.

They received some unexpected help from Republican Senator Marco Rubio last week. Rubio, who is not facing re-election this cycle, told the Economist magazine that benefits are going to corporations instead of employees.

“They bought back shares, a few gave out bonuses; there’s no evidence whatsoever that the money’s been massively poured back into the American worker,” he said.

Despite that criticism, some Republican incumbents are still making a determined effort to sell voters on the merits of the new tax law.

Dean Heller, 2018’s most vulnerable Republican senator, has been far and away the most aggressive on tax messaging. He has sent out 380 messages in the first four months of the year, or almost one-third of a total 1,287 messages.

But even his communications have dropped by 44 percent since the end of January. “Let me be very clear, our campaign moving forward will be based on lower taxes and less regulation,” Heller said in an interview. “The trend you’ve seen in the first quarter of this year, I assure you, is not going to be the trend over the next six months.”

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Chelsea Manning: Insurgent Bid for US Senate Is Genuine

Chelsea Manning is no longer living as a transgender woman in a male military prison, serving the lengthiest sentence ever for revealing U.S. government secrets. She’s free to grow out her hair, travel the world, and spend time with whomever she likes.

 

But a year since former president Barack Obama commuted Manning’s 35-year sentence, America’s most famous convicted leaker isn’t taking an extended vacation. Far from it: The Oklahoma native has decided to make an unlikely bid for the U.S. Senate in her adopted state of Maryland.

 

Manning, 30, filed to run in January and has been registered to vote in Maryland since August. She lives in North Bethesda, not far from where she stayed with an aunt while awaiting trial. Her aim is to unseat Sen. Ben Cardin, a 74-year-old Maryland Democrat who is seeking his third Senate term and previously served 10 terms in the U.S. House.

 

 Manning, who also has become an internationally recognized transgender activist, said she’s motivated by a desire to fight what she sees as a shadowy surveillance state and a rising tide of nightmarish repression.

 

“The rise of authoritarianism is encroaching in every aspect of life, whether it’s government or corporate or technological,” Manning told The Associated Press during an interview at her home in an upscale apartment tower. On the walls of her barely furnished living room hang Obama’s commutation order, and photos of U.S. anarchist Emma Goldman and British playwright Oscar Wilde.

 

Manning’s longshot campaign for the June 26 primary would appear to be one of the more unorthodox U.S. Senate bids in recent memory, and the candidate is operating well outside the party’s playbook. She says she doesn’t, in fact, even consider herself a Democrat, but is motivated by a desire to shake up establishment Democrats who are “caving in” to President Donald Trump’s administration. She vows she won’t run as an independent if her primary bid fails.

Unconventional platform

She’s certainly got an eye-catching platform: Close prisons and free inmates; eliminate national borders; restructure the criminal justice system; provide universal health care and basic income. The top of her agenda? Abolish the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency created in 2003 that Manning asserts is preparing for an “ethnic cleansing.”

 

Manning ticks off life experiences she believes would make her an effective senator: a stint being homeless in Chicago, her wartime experiences as a U.S. Army intelligence analyst in Iraq – even her seven years in prison. She asserts she’s got a “bigger vision” than establishment politicians.

 

But political analysts suspect the convicted felon is not running to win.

 

“Manning is running as a protest candidate, which has a long lineage in American history, to shine light on American empire,” said Daniel Schlozman, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. “That’s a very different goal, with a very different campaign, than if she wanted to beat Ben Cardin.”

 

Manning’s insurgent candidacy thus far has been a decidedly stripped-down affair, with few appearances and a campaign website that just went up.  In recent days, she approached an anti-fracking rally in Baltimore almost furtively, keeping to herself for much of the demonstration. But when it was her turn to address the small group, her celebrity status was evident. People who never met her called her by her first name and eagerly took photos.

 

Manning has acknowledged leaking more than 700,000 military and State Department documents to anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks in 2010. She said her motivation was a desire to spark debate about U.S. foreign policy, and she has been portrayed as both a hero and a traitor.

 

Known as Bradley Manning at the time of her arrest, she came out as transgender after her 2013 court-martial. She was barred from growing her hair long in prison, and was approved for hormone therapy only after litigation. She spent long stints in solitary confinement, and twice tried to kill herself.

 

The Pentagon, which has repeatedly declined to discuss Manning’s treatment in military prison, is also staying mum about her political ambitions. Democratic Party officials say they have no comment, citing a policy not to weigh in on primaries. Republican operatives are quiet.

Critics don’t see serious effort

In Maryland, a blue state that’s home to tens of thousands of federal employees and defense contractors, it appears Manning’s main supporters are independents or anti-politics, making them unlikely to coalesce politically. She recently reported contributions of $72,000 on this year’s first quarterly finance statement, compared with Cardin’s $336,000.

 

The candidate has barely made an effort at tapping sources of grassroots enthusiasm outside of activism circles. And it’s easy to find Democrats who feel her candidacy is just a vehicle to boost her profile.

 

“It feels to me almost like it’s part of a book tour – that this is her moment after being released from prison,” said Dana Beyer, a transgender woman who leads the Gender Rights Maryland nonprofit and is a Democratic candidate for state senate. “I don’t think this is a serious effort.”

 

Manning is indeed working on a book about her dramatic life. For now, she says she supports herself with income from speaking engagements. She’s spoken at various U.S. colleges and is due to take the stage at a Montreal conference later this month.

 

Last week, she appeared at a tech conference in Germany’s capital of Berlin, arriving to cheers from the audience of several thousand people. She told attendees she’s still struggling to adjust to life after prison and hasn’t gotten used to her celebrity status yet.

 

“There’s been a kind of cult of personality that is really intimidating and that is overwhelming for me,” she said in Berlin.

 

At her Maryland apartment, Manning told the AP she occasionally wakes up panicked that she’s back in the cage in Kuwait where she was first jailed, or incarcerated at the Marine base at Quantico, Virginia, where a U.N. official concluded she’d been subjected to “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” She works hard to overcome anxiety, centering herself with yoga, breathing exercises, and reading.

 

“I’ve been out for almost a year now and it’s becoming increasingly clear to me just how deep the wounds are,” she said in her Spartan living room.

 

Asked how she would define success, Manning responded with passionate intensity: “Success for me is survival.”

 

 

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Trump Lawyer: President Doesn’t Have to Comply With Subpoena

U.S. President Donald Trump’s new lawyer asserted Sunday that the president does not have to comply with a subpoena involving the burgeoning Russia investigation stemming from the 2016 election and might invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination if he is forced to testify.

“We don’t have to” honor a subpoena, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who recently joined Trump’s legal team, told ABC’s Sunday news program “This Week.”

 He added, “He’s the president of the United States. We can assert the same privileges other presidents have.”

Trump often has said he would like to sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of lawyers, if he is “treated fairly,” as he said Friday. But Giuliani said there was no guarantee that Trump would answer questions and could instead assert his 5th Amendment right against incriminating himself.

“How could I ever be confident of that?” Giuliani said of the certainty of Trump answering questions. Giuliani voiced opposition to the prospect of Trump, often given to exaggerations or falsehoods, testifying about his campaign’s links to Russia and whether he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation.

To allow his testimony, Giuliani said, “I’m going to walk him right into a prosecution for perjury like Martha Stewart,” the U.S. lifestyle maven sent to prison in 2004 for lying about a stock trade she made.

Giuliani said an agreement for Trump to testify could still be worked out with Mueller, but only if Trump is told the questions in advance and that his questioning was not under oath, conditions to which most U.S. prosecutors would not agree.

Mueller has suggested he could subpoena Trump to testify under oath before a grand jury if a voluntary agreement for his testimony is not reached.

If Trump rejects the subpoena, his lawyers could contest the demand for Trump to appear before a grand jury, with the case possibly and ultimately decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. U.S. legal precedent generally holds that no individual, including presidents, are above the law.

Giuliani said of Mueller’s investigators, “They don’t have a case on collusion. They don’t have a case on obstruction.”

ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos questioned Giuliani at length about a $130,000 reimbursement Trump made to another of his attorneys, Michael Cohen, who said he paid the money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels shortly before the election to keep her quiet about her claim she had a 2006 one-night affair with Trump at a Nevada hotel. Trump said the purported liaison did not occur.

Giuliani said the timing of the hush money paid to 39-year-old Daniels could have been related to the election, but that the payment was made chiefly because her accusations about the affair with Trump were “embarrassing to him and his wife,” now first lady Melania Trump.

Giuliani rejected the view of some Trump critics that the money amounted to an illegal campaign donation, made just weeks ahead of the Nov. 8, 2016, election, because its size was significantly bigger than the $2,700 limit individuals like Cohen can donate to candidates.

“It was not a campaign donation,” Giuliani contended, adding that “eventually, it was entirely reimbursed out of personal funds.”

Later on the same ABC show, Michael Avenatti, Daniels’ attorney, said, “No question, this had everything to do with the election.”

In April, Trump told reporters on Air Force One that he did not know anything about the payment, although a New York Times report Friday said he knew of it months before.

Giuliani said, “I don’t know when the president learned about it. It could have been recently. It could have been a while back.”

In any event, Giuliani said that for a billionaire like Trump, the $130,000 was “not a great deal of money” and that Cohen made the payment without consulting ahead of time with Trump.

Giuliani said, ” I wouldn’t go and bother him two weeks before the election.” He said Cohen had a fund “to take care of situations like this … if it were necessary, yes.”

Giuliani said he knew of no other women linked to Trump who were paid by Cohen to keep quiet about their relations with the future president.

But former Playboy model Karen McDougal said she was paid $150,000 through the parent company of a tabloid newspaper to not talk about what she has said was a 10-month affair with Trump that allegedly started at the same celebrity golf tournament where Daniels said she met Trump. The president has also denied McDougal’s claims.

 

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Republican Primaries Heat Up in 4 US States

As primary season kicks into high gear, Republicans are engaged in nomination fights that are pulling the party to the right, leaving some leaders worried their candidates will be out of a step with the broader electorate in November.

Primaries in four states on Tuesday, all in places Donald Trump carried in 2016, showcase races in which GOP candidates are jockeying to be seen as the most conservative, the most anti-Washington and the most loyal to the president. It’s evidence of the onetime outsider’s deepening imprint on the Republican Party he commandeered less than two year ago.

 

In Indiana, Republicans will pick from among three Senate candidates who have spent much of the race praising the Trump and bashing each other. In West Virginia, a former federal convict and coal baron has taken aim at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., with racially charged accusations of corruption.

 

In Ohio, Republicans are certain to nominate someone more conservative than outgoing GOP Gov. John Kasich, a 2016 presidential candidate, moderate and frequent Trump critic. Even Kasich’s former running mate, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, has pledged to unwind some of Kasich’s centrist policies, including the expansion of the Medicaid government insurance program following Democrats’ 2010 health insurance overhaul.

 

With Trump’s job approval hanging around 40 percent and the GOP-run Congress less than half that, the abandonment of the middle has some Republicans raising alarms.

 

“The far left and the far right always think they are going to dominate these elections,” said John Weaver, a Trump critic and top strategist to Kasich, who has been become a near-pariah in the primary to succeed him.

 

“You may think it’s wise in a primary to handcuff yourself to the president,” Weaver said. “But when the ship goes down, you may not be able to get the cuffs off.”

 

North Carolina Republicans will weigh in on the fate of Republican Rep. Robert Pittenger, facing a primary challenger who almost upset him two years ago. Pittenger features Trump prominently in his campaign. Challenger Mark Harris, a prominent Charlotte pastor, has tried to turn the table, saying Pittenger is a creature of Washington who refuses to help Trump “drain that swamp.”

 

Tough primaries certainly don’t have to be disastrous. They often gin up voter attention and engagement, and can signal strong turnout in the general election.

 

Dallas Woodhouse, who runs the North Carolina Republican Party, said candidates benefit because they must “make their arguments and voters become more aware of the election.”

 

Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton each survived internal party battles in 2016. Clinton won the national popular vote that year, but in the states that mattered most — Ohio and North Carolina, among them — wary Republicans gravitated back to Trump while Clinton struggled to hit the usual Democratic base targets.

 

Few national Republicans look at West Virginia and see helpful enthusiasm.

 

Former coal executive Don Blankenship has accused McConnell of creating jobs for “China people” and charges that the senator’s “China family” has given him millions of dollars. McConnell’s wife is Trump’s transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, who was born in Taiwan.

 

Indiana Senate candidates are trying to appeal to Trump voters by adopting the president’s harsh immigration rhetoric and penchant for personal insults. The candidates have even channeled Trump by assigning derisive nicknames to one another: “Lyin” Todd Rokita, Luke “Missing” Messer and “Tax Hike” Mike Braun.

 

In several of the Tuesday primaries, Democrats are watching with delight, and having less trouble aligning behind nominees. The chief beneficiaries would be Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, both sitting on healthy campaign accounts after avoiding their own primary fights.

 

The leading Democrat for the North Carolina seat, Marine veteran Dan McCready, has raised almost $2 million, slightly more than Harris and Pittenger combined, in a district Trump won by about 12 percentage points. “He will absolutely make this competitive,” Harris said.

 

In the Ohio governor’s race, liberal former Rep. Dennis Kucinich and former state Attorney General Richard Cordray have managed to avoid open warfare. Cordray, who also led the federal consumer watchdog agency launched under President Barack Obama, is the favorite.

 

Republicans watched their state party, led by pro-Trump leadership that replaced Kasich allies after the 2016 elections, endorse state Attorney General Mike Dewine, while Taylor has effectively shunned an earlier endorsement from Kasich.

 

“If Ohio Republicans are divided into Trump Republicans and Kasich Republicans, the Trump Republicans have won,” said the state Democratic chairman, David Pepper. “That helps us.”

 

Gallup measures Trump with an 89 percent job approval rating among Republicans nationally, but 35 percent among independents and 42 percent overall. Historically, presidents below 50 percent watch their party suffer steep losses in midterm elections.

 

Democrats must flip about two dozen Republican-held seats to reclaim a House majority, and they must do it with Republican-run legislatures having drawn many districts to the GOP’s advantage. In North Carolina, Harris said the makeup of the district, which stretches from Republican areas of metro Charlotte east through small towns and rural counties, makes his pro-Trump, anti-establishment message a primary and November winner.

 

Senate Democrats are just two seats shy of a majority, but must defend 26 incumbents, 10 in states where Trump won, including Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia. Republicans are defending nine seats, just one in a state Trump lost.

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Homeless Crisis in Los Angeles Worsens

Nearly 554,000 people were living on America’s streets last year, according to a government survey. That’s the first increase since 2010, driven, experts say, by a surge in the homeless in Los Angeles and other West Coast cities. Homelessness has been a serious problem for Los Angeles for years, but as the housing crisis intensifies, it seems to have gotten worse. Some say it’s time to cut municipal funding for the homeless, but others want to help. Angelina Bagdasaryan has more.

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Homeless Crisis in Los Angeles Worsens

Nearly 554,000 people were living on America’s streets last year, according to a government survey. That’s the first increase since 2010, driven, experts say, by a surge in the homeless in Los Angeles and other West Coast cities. Homelessness has been a serious problem for Los Angeles for years, but as the housing crisis intensifies, it seems to have gotten worse. Some say it’s time to cut municipal funding for the homeless, but others want to help. Angelina Bagdasaryan has more.

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Chanda Choun Chose Arlington, Wants Its Voters to Choose Him

Located just outside Washington, Arlington County, Virginia, is one of the richest, most educated and mostly white counties in the United States. It didn’t matter to Cambodian-American Chanda Choun that less than 11 percent of the population is Asian. When a seat opened on the Arlington County Board after the November 2017 election, he decided to run.

Choun, who the Arlington County Department of Voter Registration and Elections believes is the first Asian-American to run for office there, saw his opportunity to be of service to a place he now calls home.

“I didn’t see anybody with a military background, I didn’t see anybody with an immigrant background, and I didn’t see anybody with a tech background stepping up,” he said. “That’s all it came down to.”

But it wasn’t quite so cut and dried. Arlington exerts a pull on Choun, who calls the place “the love of my life.”

“I didn’t get to choose where I was born. I didn’t get to choose where the refugee resettlement agency placed my family. I didn’t get to choose where the Army sent me. But I can choose where I am now. And I choose Arlington,” according to Choun’s campaign website. “I will get married in Arlington. My children will run through the parks of Arlington. I will die in Arlington and be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.”

Part-time position

The five-member Arlington County Board is the jurisdiction’s governing body. Being a board member is a part-time job, one that can be the first rung in the political career ladder. But Choun says he has no aspiration to higher office.

Choun, a 30-year-old program manager at the cybersecurity company Securonix, came to the United States as a baby when his family fled Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, which ruled from 1975-1979, a time when 1.7 million people died.

Grateful that his family was chosen for resettlement in Connecticut from a Thai refugee camp for Cambodians, Choun enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17. He rose from private to staff sergeant and left after 12 years, although he remains on part-time reserve duty.

Choun began campaigning in February to “Make Arlington the North Star of Virginia,” as his campaign literature proclaims.

He secured by the March 29 deadline 125 signatures of registered Arlington County voters, which is required to get on the primary ballot. He believes he can defeat in November independent John Vihstadt, an established incumbent county board member.

First, however, Choun must defeat fellow Democrat Matt de Ferranti in the June 12 primary. Choun and de Ferranti have already faced off in party-sponsored public debates.

Choun says his background has prepared him for working on two critical issues facing the county: the budget shortfall and attracting more tech companies to fill Arlington’s many vacant offices.

He’s also aware of the importance of raising money and has raised more than $28,000, largely through a personal loan. De Ferranti has raised more than $35,000 from small donors.

​Cambodian-Americans

Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian-American elected to any U.S. public office, served three terms on the City Council in Lowell, Massachusetts, which has the second-largest Cambodian community in the nation.

Uong, who says he is tracking Choun’s run, says a candidate must be able to raise funds, but it is critical for a candidate to build trust and rapport with voters. Voters, he says, care less about a candidate’s background and more about issues particular to their community.

Choun says his most immediate priority is building a nimble election campaign organization.

“Essentially, just as in any new endeavor, any sector, it’s a business startup,” he says. “I’d group it down to three domains: people, process, tools.”

Choun is self-managing his campaign until the voters decide his future in the June primary. However, he has hired creative director Minh Pham, a Vietnamese-American, who is also new to political campaigning. Pham also likens their effort to a startup. Choun has also hired a field manager, John Victoria.

While social media is an important tool for reaching out to voters, Choun says that to be seen as a member of the community, he needs to attend as many meet-and-greet events as possible in the 26-square-mile county.

“I’m bringing my message, my person to the community,” he says. “I don’t want the community to come to me.”

​VFW meet-and-greet

To that end Choun asked to hold his first meet-and-greet event at John Lyon Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3150, a veteran’s community meeting post in Arlington.

An Air Force veteran with 28 years of service, Patrick Pope met Choun before the event and said Arlington voters are open to candidates like Choun who don’t mirror the county’s white majority.

“I think a lot of Arlington voters are looking for somebody fresh, with some fresh ideas and fresh perspective, looking for someone who doesn’t have deep ties with a political machine, but instead speaks to power as a person of the community,” Pope said.

​Lynn Borton, 56, another Arlington resident, has lived in the county since 1985. She learned about Choun’s event from Facebook and, like Pope, believes that voters need to get to know first-time candidates.

“I think there is value in meeting people,” Borton says. “You can learn something, you can make an assessment that is unmediated, literally un-media-ated, but I don’t know that that’s everything.”

Choun’s main challenges as a first-time candidate, Pope notes, will be getting Democratic Party support and name recognition.

But Pope believes voters also need to make an effort to meet the candidates.

“I think it’s important to get to know who your candidates are. You can’t do that just by watching the television ad or looking at a newspaper advertisement. You’ve got to get out and be engaged,” he says. “If you expect your representative to be engaged, then you need to be engaged as [an] informed voter.”

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Chanda Choun Chose Arlington, Wants Its Voters to Choose Him

Located just outside Washington, Arlington County, Virginia, is one of the richest, most educated and mostly white counties in the United States. It didn’t matter to Cambodian-American Chanda Choun that less than 11 percent of the population is Asian. When a seat opened on the Arlington County Board after the November 2017 election, he decided to run.

Choun, who the Arlington County Department of Voter Registration and Elections believes is the first Asian-American to run for office there, saw his opportunity to be of service to a place he now calls home.

“I didn’t see anybody with a military background, I didn’t see anybody with an immigrant background, and I didn’t see anybody with a tech background stepping up,” he said. “That’s all it came down to.”

But it wasn’t quite so cut and dried. Arlington exerts a pull on Choun, who calls the place “the love of my life.”

“I didn’t get to choose where I was born. I didn’t get to choose where the refugee resettlement agency placed my family. I didn’t get to choose where the Army sent me. But I can choose where I am now. And I choose Arlington,” according to Choun’s campaign website. “I will get married in Arlington. My children will run through the parks of Arlington. I will die in Arlington and be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.”

Part-time position

The five-member Arlington County Board is the jurisdiction’s governing body. Being a board member is a part-time job, one that can be the first rung in the political career ladder. But Choun says he has no aspiration to higher office.

Choun, a 30-year-old program manager at the cybersecurity company Securonix, came to the United States as a baby when his family fled Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, which ruled from 1975-1979, a time when 1.7 million people died.

Grateful that his family was chosen for resettlement in Connecticut from a Thai refugee camp for Cambodians, Choun enlisted in the U.S. Army at 17. He rose from private to staff sergeant and left after 12 years, although he remains on part-time reserve duty.

Choun began campaigning in February to “Make Arlington the North Star of Virginia,” as his campaign literature proclaims.

He secured by the March 29 deadline 125 signatures of registered Arlington County voters, which is required to get on the primary ballot. He believes he can defeat in November independent John Vihstadt, an established incumbent county board member.

First, however, Choun must defeat fellow Democrat Matt de Ferranti in the June 12 primary. Choun and de Ferranti have already faced off in party-sponsored public debates.

Choun says his background has prepared him for working on two critical issues facing the county: the budget shortfall and attracting more tech companies to fill Arlington’s many vacant offices.

He’s also aware of the importance of raising money and has raised more than $28,000, largely through a personal loan. De Ferranti has raised more than $35,000 from small donors.

​Cambodian-Americans

Rithy Uong, the first Cambodian-American elected to any U.S. public office, served three terms on the City Council in Lowell, Massachusetts, which has the second-largest Cambodian community in the nation.

Uong, who says he is tracking Choun’s run, says a candidate must be able to raise funds, but it is critical for a candidate to build trust and rapport with voters. Voters, he says, care less about a candidate’s background and more about issues particular to their community.

Choun says his most immediate priority is building a nimble election campaign organization.

“Essentially, just as in any new endeavor, any sector, it’s a business startup,” he says. “I’d group it down to three domains: people, process, tools.”

Choun is self-managing his campaign until the voters decide his future in the June primary. However, he has hired creative director Minh Pham, a Vietnamese-American, who is also new to political campaigning. Pham also likens their effort to a startup. Choun has also hired a field manager, John Victoria.

While social media is an important tool for reaching out to voters, Choun says that to be seen as a member of the community, he needs to attend as many meet-and-greet events as possible in the 26-square-mile county.

“I’m bringing my message, my person to the community,” he says. “I don’t want the community to come to me.”

​VFW meet-and-greet

To that end Choun asked to hold his first meet-and-greet event at John Lyon Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3150, a veteran’s community meeting post in Arlington.

An Air Force veteran with 28 years of service, Patrick Pope met Choun before the event and said Arlington voters are open to candidates like Choun who don’t mirror the county’s white majority.

“I think a lot of Arlington voters are looking for somebody fresh, with some fresh ideas and fresh perspective, looking for someone who doesn’t have deep ties with a political machine, but instead speaks to power as a person of the community,” Pope said.

​Lynn Borton, 56, another Arlington resident, has lived in the county since 1985. She learned about Choun’s event from Facebook and, like Pope, believes that voters need to get to know first-time candidates.

“I think there is value in meeting people,” Borton says. “You can learn something, you can make an assessment that is unmediated, literally un-media-ated, but I don’t know that that’s everything.”

Choun’s main challenges as a first-time candidate, Pope notes, will be getting Democratic Party support and name recognition.

But Pope believes voters also need to make an effort to meet the candidates.

“I think it’s important to get to know who your candidates are. You can’t do that just by watching the television ad or looking at a newspaper advertisement. You’ve got to get out and be engaged,” he says. “If you expect your representative to be engaged, then you need to be engaged as [an] informed voter.”

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