WESTMINSTER — Vice President Dan Quayle, stumping for money and votes in Republican-rich Orange County, joined local GOP leaders Tuesday in an aggressive appeal to the area's rapidly growing Southeast Asian community.
Quayle and Republican gubernatorial candidate Sen. Pete Wilson launched the opening of the 1990 Asian American Republican Headquarters in Westminster's Little Saigon neighborhood, home of the largest Vietnamese population in the United States.
"Perhaps you, more than anyone, understand the importance of freedom," Quayle told an audience of about 1,000 packed into a hallway decorated with political welcome banners. "I hope you will concur with this one thought: America is great because America is free."
Wilson, who requested Quayle's appearance at the event and who attended the opening of the same Asian Republican office during his Senate campaign in 1988, added, "In this audience, there are some very special Americans. They are people who were not born here; they were not born to freedom; they had to come to it.
"They are as fine Americans as you will find anywhere, and they are as fine Republicans as you will find anywhere."
Many in the audience said they were loyal to the Republican Party and that they considered the Democratic Congress at least partly to blame for the defeat of South Vietnam nearly 20 years ago.
But privately, several also said Quayle was not the best ambassador for Republicans to bring into the Vietnamese community because of his decision as a youth to join the National Guard and not serve in the Vietnam War.
"They don't want to speak out against the vice president, but there is some distance between them and Quayle," one prominent Republican said on condition of anonymity.
Quayle's assignment in Orange County was to generate Republican votes and money, particularly for the local effort to elect Wilson governor, as well as for one of the state's most competitive legislative battles being waged for the seat held by Assemblyman Curt Pringle (R-Garden Grove).
The vice president attended a luncheon fund-raiser for the state GOP at the Newport Beach home of John C. Crean, a mobile home magnate. And on his arrival in Orange County shortly before noon, he gave a brief address to the families of soldiers deployed from El Toro Marine Corps Air Station to the Middle East.
"On behalf of President George Bush, I just want to say two words to you: 'Thank you,' " the vice president said at a podium on the air station Tarmac. "The 6,000 brave men and women of El Toro are 6,000 reasons why we have been able to deter (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein."
Several hundred students from MacArthur Intermediate School in Santa Ana also attended the El Toro welcome, waving tiny American flags and some carrying yellow ribbons. One boy wore a T-shirt picturing cartoon character Bart Simpson strangling Hussein.
On Tuesday evening, Quayle also attended a fund-raiser in Century City for state Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.
But it was in Orange County's booming Southeast Asian community where the Republican effort was focused. Republican strategists have long sensed opportunity in the Vietnamese community, where strong anti-communist feelings have inspired political participation.
Elsewhere in California, experts say Vietnamese voters lean only slightly toward the GOP, but in Orange County, the community has a sharper Republican hue largely because of a dedicated eight-year registration effort by party officials and the hawkish politics of Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove).
There are about 120,000 Vietnamese in Orange County and up to 100,000 residents from Korea, the nation's second-largest Korean population after Los Angeles.
This is the fifth consecutive election year that the Orange County Republican Party has opened its Asian American headquarters with the goal of registering new voters and encouraging their participation. The party even regularly places registration tables outside the sites of naturalization ceremonies, hoping to sign up the newest Vietnamese-American citizens.
"I have to tell you, we know that more than 95% of the Vietnamese vote Republican," said Ky Ngo, a Republican activist since 1980 and the first Vietnamese delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1988. "Most of the Vietnamese care about the issues of refugees and anti-communism. They are not very aware of the environment or abortion. That's not their primary concern."
Recently, the state Democratic Party also launched a major registration effort in the same area on behalf of Pringle's opponent in the Assembly race, Tom Umberg. The Democratic drive includes three full-time registration staffers who speak Vietnamese, said George Urch, Umberg's campaign manager.
"I don't think any one party has a complete lock on the community," Urch said. "Republicans have the money to spend in the area, but it's going to take a lot more than just opening an office."