California GOP Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA) and her campaign reportedly funded and created “red-baiting” fliers targeting her Democratic opponent, Jay Chen.
Steel currently represents California’s 48th District in her first term. Born in South Korea, Steel made her mark by being one of the first Korean American women to serve in Congress. Like many other Asian American immigrants, Steel immigrated to the United States to achieve the supposed “American Dream.”
Previously part of the 48th district, a new 45th congressional district was created during the redrawing of district boundaries last year. The new boundaries were purportedly created to further empower Asian American voters in the region.
With Steel’s upcoming re-election for California’s new 45th district, red-baiting fliers were sent out to the Vietnamese American community in Orange County. The flier featured a doctored image of Chen in a classroom holding Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto,” reported the Los Angeles Times.
In addition, images of communist figures Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin and Ho Chi Minh, along with self-described democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, are seen hung up on the classroom walls.
“Jay Chen invited China into our children’s classroom” is written in Vietnamese on the chalkboard, according to the Times
The flier highlights Chen’s previous vote to support the Confucius Institution, a popular Beijing-backed language and cultural education center, during his time at Hacienda la Puente Unified School District years ago. However, Chen has defended himself by sharing his grandmother’s escape from communist China and his status as a “Naval Reserve officer with top-secret security clearance.”
California’s 45th congressional district contains a large Asian American plurality, holding the largest concentration of people of Vietnamese descent outside of Vietnam. Thus, the flier’s depiction of Chen is expected to boost Steel’s campaign since many in the AAPI community hold an ingrained opposition to communism due its oppressive history in Asia.
The strategy of red-baiting, most closely associated with Senator Joseph McCarthy and the Red Scare periods, was first brought to the forefront when Republicans sought to undermine President Roosevelt’s New Deal by reframing it. By the end of the 1930s, the New Deal was seen as a form of “creeping communism,” allowing red-baiting to be used to create negative sentiment based on cultural fears of communism.
Although more voters in California’s 45th district are registered as Democrats — a 5-point voter registration edge — the elections are expected to be decided by turnout. In the June primary, Steel and another Republican received the majority of votes with 57%, while Chen received 43%.