Amid the upcoming re-election for California’s 45th district, Democratic candidate Jay Chen fired back after GOP Rep. Michelle Steel (R-CA) distributed fliers that depicted Chen as a communist sympathizer.
Last month, Steel’s campaign sent out red-baiting fliers to the Vietnamese American community in Orange County to highlight Chen’s support of the Confucius Institute, an education and cultural promotion organization backed by the People’s Republic of China.
The flyers featured an altered image of Chen in a classroom holding Karl Marx’s “The Communist Manifesto.” On the classroom’s chalkboard, “Jay Chen invited China into our children’s classroom” is written in Vietnamese.
“Jay Chen spent the last decade voting for, promoting and defending his support for installing Chinese Communist Party-funded Confucius Institutes into classrooms and as recently as February was fundraising off his position,” Steel’s spokesperson Lance Trover said in a statement last week. “The State Department has said their mission is to advance Beijing’s global propaganda, and in an era where nothing passes unanimously, the U.S. Senate voted 100-0 to increase oversight of these CCP-funded institutes.”
The flier’s depiction of Chen was expected to boost Steel’s campaign, as California’s 45th congressional district contains a large Asian American plurality and holds the largest concentration of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam. Many in the Asian community hold an ingrained opposition to communism due its oppressive history in Asia.
Chen, who is a Taiwanese American and Mt. San Antonio College Board of Trustees President, immediately disputed Steel’s flyers, claiming that his grandmother had fled China to escape communist rule. He also noted that he is a Naval Reserve officer with top-secret security clearance, a status that a Communist sympathizer would not earn.
Lindsay Barnes, his campaign manager, said Steel’s claim of Chen having ties to the Chinese Communist Party is “patently untrue.”
“In the span of only a few days, Michelle Steel — who has never worn a military uniform — preyed upon generational trauma in the Vietnamese community, pushed a patently untrue narrative that a Taiwanese-American is affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party, and attempted to defile a decorated Navy veteran’s reputation and allegiance to the United States,” Barnes said in a statement.
The issues of race and communist sympathy between the two candidates started when Steel accused Chen of racism in April after he said she needed an interpreter as it was difficult to understand what she was saying.
The tension between the two has highlighted some issues that are unseen in other districts.
“This flier issue is also showing that candidates need to be prepared more on their pasts, especially when it has to do with anything with any issue that affects Asian-Americans,” Ronald Yang, an Asian American candidate profiler in Washington, said. “Based on the Chen campaign’s reaction, they were a bit blind sighted by the accusations and the flyers, and they should have had something ready to go on it, but honestly, the specific flier probably threw a change up. It was good on the Chen campaign to point out his Naval Reserve and his grandmother’s history. Regardless of the flier, they should be playing up his military career a little more as a further counter.”
“This is going to be a close race, and the Steel campaign is leaving no stone unturned,” Yang added. “The flier was just the thing that made this erupt a bit. Probably will happen again in the race in some way between now and November 8th.”
An analysis of the district by CalMatters revealed that registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by 38% to 32%. However, Steel and another Republican candidate secured the majority of votes with 57% during the June primary.