WESTMINSTER, Calif. – In the teeming markets and cafes of Little Saigon, generational changes and misgivings over his policies have weakened President Bush's support among Vietnamese-Americans. Still, few are embracing his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry (search).
Most people in the nation's largest Vietnamese community respect that Kerry, unlike Bush, risked his life and fought the communists during the Vietnam War (search). It's what Kerry did when he returned from the battlefield that angers them.
Many resent Kerry for protesting the Vietnam War as a young veteran and later, as a senator, engaging with Vietnam's communist leaders and not taking a tougher stance on human rights and democracy in their homeland. Bush also supported engagement with Vietnam, but Kerry gained notoriety in the Vietnamese community.
"It's a very sensitive issue for anyone who's a registered Democrat," said Xuan Vu, 31, a community activist and Democrat in Orange County. "People feel very hesitant about Kerry. If they vote for Kerry, it's really about how much they dislike Bush."
A spokesman for Kerry's campaign in California declined to comment. The Massachusetts senator leads Bush in California, 58 percent to 40 percent, according to a Los Angeles Times poll released Wednesday.
In the decades since the communists prevailed in Vietnam, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, many with links to the South Vietnamese government and army, have immigrated to the United States. More than 1 million now live in this country. Orange County has the most people of Vietnamese descent — 130,000, according to the Census.
As voters, Vietnamese-Americans have traditionally backed the GOP because of its strong anti-communist stance. But between 1992 and 2002, the share of Vietnamese registered as Republicans in Orange County fell from about 60 percent to about one-third, as more voters identified themselves as independents and Democrats.
"The segment of the community that participates remains in vigorous opposition to the government of Vietnam," said Christian Collet, a political scientist at the University of California, Irvine. "What you have seen in recent years, however, is a greater willingness of younger Vietnamese-Americans to speak out and oppose this view."
Vietnamese reared in the United States tend to be more socially liberal and less Republican than their parents. They worry more about education, jobs and the economy than about communism and U.S.-Vietnam relations.
Many older immigrants remember Kerry as the angry young veteran who railed against the Vietnam War and tossed his medals at an anti-war rally in Washington. He also is remembered as the Senate subcommittee chairman who two years ago blocked the Vietnam Human Rights Act after it passed 410-1 in the House.