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Blong Xiong would make history as the first Hmong American in Congress, if elected this November.
The Fresno city councilman and Laos-born refugee is energizing the country’s fast-growing Hmong community, which has helped launch his campaign financially with a series of Midwest fundraisers. But to Democrats in Washington, D.C., Xiong represents something else: their best hope of retaining a heavily Hispanic, central California seat that is a top Republican target and among their most vulnerable.
Xiong wasn’t the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s first choice as it searched for a candidate to hold the redrawn 21st district. But after more desirable recruits passed on the race and Xiong proved a capable fundraiser and hired a strong consulting team, the DCCC threw him its support. The campaign arm added him to its Emerging Races list, which identifies candidates who are running smart campaigns and making a district competitive.
“We’re going to continue to count on my community, but the big piece is really the broader support that we’ve now gotten,” Xiong, 43, told Roll Call. “The Emerging Race status means a great deal and opens an even larger base for us.”
Xiong didn’t file his candidacy papers until the March 9 deadline. But thanks largely to Hmong support, he raised $145,000 in about a month. The U.S. Hmong population is now about 260,000, according to the 2010 census, up almost 40 percent since 2000.
The demographic’s highest concentrations are in California, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Xiong made two trips to St. Paul, Minn., during the first quarter to kick off his fundraising. Out of the $139,000 Xiong raised from individuals last quarter, about $33,000 came from the Hmong communities based in the Midwest.
“Obviously it’s very personal to the Hmong community, not just here in California but throughout the country,” Xiong said. “This is the first opportunity that the community has had anybody to participate in the government at this level.”
The DCCC is optimistic that Xiong’s month-old campaign can help maximize its potential for gains in the Golden State, where the party could pick up half a dozen seats. But GOP state Assemblyman David Valadao is considered a top-tier candidate, and the National Republican Congressional Committee views the 21st district as a major pickup opportunity.