Carl DeMaio(c) with Lanhee Chen(l), Mitt Romney’s chief policy adviser and Tom Hom(r), the first Asian American city councilman in San Diego at a private luncheon with the Asian American Coalition. Photo credit: Alexander Nguyen

At a private Asian-American outreach event in Kearny Mesa on Friday, congressional candidate Carl DeMaio said he is willing to take on the Republican establishment to make the party more inclusive.

In a recent SurveyUSA poll, among likely voters, Asian-Americans prefer DeMaio over Rep. Scott Peters nearly 2-to-1. The poll suggests that Asian voters could be the deciding factor in one of the most hotly contested races in the country.

In the last presidential election, Asian-Americans — who typically vote Republican — voted for Barack Obama 73 percent to 26 percent.

Lanhee Chen, Mitt Romney’s chief policy adviser during his presidential campaign, praised DeMaio for his work with the Asian community and criticized the Republican party for not doing more to reach out to minority voters. Chen was the guest of honor at the luncheon with the Asian American Coalition.

“My hope is the Republican party takes note of what is happening here in San Diego,” DeMaio said. “Because we need to challenge our party to reach out and reflect the great diversity in our country. We have a very strong and vibrant Asian American community in San Diego — particularly in this district.”

One the the criticisms the Republican party faces is that it is out of touch with the public on a range of issues, including a woman’s right to choose and gay marriage. A March Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that 68 percent of respondent felt that the Republican party is not in tune with the general public.

During the press conference preceding the private reception, DeMaio struck a more conciliatory tone, wanting to reach out across the aisle to work on the common issues. The 52nd District is more evenly divided politically, making it a competitive race.

“The Asian community — all communities — want the same thing and we should be focusing on what unites us instead of what divides us,” he said. “There are too many people in politic that constantly focus on what divides us.”

One of the issues that the Peters campaign has pressed DeMaio on is the issue of student loans. DeMaio said it is a deeply personal issue for him as he was an orphan and was not able to get student loans. He would like for interest rates on student loans set to make it easier for students to repay the loans.

In particular, he supports Pres. Obama’s plan to make student loan payments be a percentage of income for certain professions, such as nurses and public and community workers.

Of particular concern for the Asian community in San Diego is China’s aggressive policy in the South China Sea. DeMaio said he would ask for the opinions of academics and community members on the issue and suggested an economic solution.

“San Diego has a unique relationship with Asian countries as the gateway to the Pacific,” he said. “We should strengthen our economic ties while engaging in human rights and political freedom issues.”

On immigration, DeMaio would like to do away with the lottery system H-1B visas, the specialty occupations work visas. This system is inherently unfair, he said.

“We need a strategic approach rather the lottery,” he said. “We need to look at what skills we want and expand the H-1B visa program.”

The 52nd District covers much of central San Diego County including Poway, Coronado and large portions of the city of San Diego.

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