|ALSO IN THIS FEATURE:
[ Introduction | McCain Apologizes | Vietnamese American Reaction | Fallout and Damage Control ]
RELATED ELECTION COVERAGE:
Less than 24 hours after stories ran about Sen. John McCains statement to reporters that he would continue to refer to his Vietnamese wartime captors as gooks, his campaign announced Feb. 18 that he would no longer use that term. Three days later McCain issued an official apology.
Several stories that ran last Friday quoted McCain as saying I hate the gooks. I will hate them as long as I live I was referring to my prison guards and I will continue to refer to them in language that might offend.
But after APIs blasted his unabashed use of the highly derogatory term that has historically been used against Asians and Asian Americans, the campaign made an apology after annoucing that McCain would no longer use the racial slur.
I will continue to condemn those who unfairly mistreated us, McCain said in a statement released Feb. 21. But out of respect to a great number of people for whom I hold in very high regard, I will no longer use the term that has caused such discomfort I apologize and renounce all language that is bigoted and offensive, which is contrary to all that I represent and believe.
ýWe hope that people understand that the senator was referring very specifically to the men who beat and tortured him for five and a half years in a prisoner of war camp, McCain campaign spokesperson Dan Schnur said on Friday. His language in no way represents his feelings toward the people in Vietnam or the Vietnamese American community.
Nevertheless, observers predict that in the short-term, especially in a multiracial state like California, McCain could lose support from better educated, white Democrats and independents -- groups that he has actively courted in other states, according to U.C. Berkeley political science professor Bruce Cain.
Indeed, independent and Democratic crossover voters in New Hampshire accounted for his landslide victory in that states primary earlier this month and was the base of his support for his victory in the Michigan primary on Tuesday.
And despite losing the South Carolina primary, exit polls showed that 60 percent of the independents and 79 percent of the Democrats who voted in the Republican contest supported McCain.
But more than the effect McCains comments will have on his success in the California Primary next month, Cain questioned his leadership competence, especially in the area of foreign affairs.
Though the Arizona senator was pivotal in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Vietnam, his gook comments -- added with his hard-line stances on China and rogue states -- raise concerns over how his experiences in Vietnam will affect his decision making if elected president, according to Cain.
Why call them gooks? Its kind of inexplicable to pick a term that indicates a whole nation, he said. It could have a deeper impact on foreign policy matters.
Though the Asian American electorate in California is small, Cain said it is a swing vote and could still hurt McCain in the primary. Nevertheless, he said, Its a potential problem, but its not irreversible.
Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California executive director Kathay Feng said APIs in California made up from 8 to 10 percent of the voters in the 1998 gubernatorial election. But that share is still disproportionately lower than the estimated 12 percent of the states population that APIs control.
According to exit polls that Fengs group conducted in 1998, 42.3 percent of API respondents said they were Democrats while 34.4 percent said they were Republicans. However, 20.7 percent of respondents said they had no party affiliation and another 2.6 percent were affiliated with other parties.
But rather than vote along party lines, said Legal Center research coordinator Dan Ichinose, APIs will vote based on the issues, adding to the communitys swing potential.
While Gov. George W. Bushs campaign has made significant inroads into the Asian American community in California -- even forming a steering committee of more than 300 APIs -- there have not been similar efforts on the part of the McCain campaign to reach out to the API community.
I havent heard about the McCain campaign on the radar screen in the Asian American community, Feng said, adding that Bushs name recognition and his fathers record of appointing Asian Americans to high posts during his administration accounts for much of Bushs popularity now.
Schnur admitted that the Senator has not conducted much Asian American outreach during the campaign, saying that up until now, most of his resources and assets were devoted to states with critical primary elections like New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Cain acknowledged that had McCain used a racial slur to indicate African American or Latino individuals, it would have been the kiss of death for his campaign, ending the competition for the Republican Party nomination immediately.
But since McCains use of the word gook was in a context in which people could understand his anger, he explained, the campaign has not been rejected by the general public.
Asked why news of McCains use of the racial slur has only recently received a lot of media attention, Cain said the press has only now started to do their critical phase. Its the natural cycle.