GOP Rep. Michelle Steel wins re-election after campaign marked by allegations of red bait, racism


GOP Representative Michelle Steel retained her congressional seat after a campaign that included allegations of red bait, misogyny and racism in a congressional district created to empower Asian-American voters.

In an Orange County district around the community of Little Saigon, Steel defeated Jay Chen, a Democratic Marine reserve officer, in one of California’s most divisive races this year. The The Bharat Express News called the race Monday, though official results are a long time coming.

“I am humbled that the voters gave me the opportunity to continue to fight for them in Washington, D.C.,” Steel said in a statement.

Steel, who is Korean-American, and Chen, who is Taiwanese-American, competed to represent California’s new 45th district, which spans Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The Interior District includes the cities of Artesia, Cerritos, and Westminster, with Asian Americans representing 37% of the district’s potential voters. White residents make up 36% of citizens of voting age. Latinos, 23% and black residents, 3%. Democrats have a 5.7% lead over Republicans among registered voters.

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Steel chose to run here after her Seal Beach home was placed in the same precinct as Democratic Rep. Katie Porter, a prolific fundraiser, in redrawing congressional maps after the US Census. (Congressmen do not have to live in their district.)

Staal is a familiar face in GOP state politics. She served on the State Board of Equalization for eight years, on the Orange County Board of Supervisors for six years, and has served in Congress since 2021. She was one of the first three Korean American women elected to the House. She was born in Seoul and grew up in South Korea, Japan and the United States.

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Chen is an intelligence officer who has served in the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East. He serves on the Board of Trustees of Mt. San Antonio Community College. He previously served on the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District Board of Education for eight years, worked as a management consultant, and owns a real estate company.

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Steel used inflammatory mailers and videos to try to paint Chen as a communist sympathizer over a vote he cast more than a decade ago in support of a Chinese cultural and language program. Orange County contains the largest number of people of Vietnamese descent outside of Vietnam. Many fled authoritarianism or are descended from people who did, and remain suspicious of communist regimes.

Steel’s campaign sent out flyers with a heavily manipulated image that supposedly showed Chen holding “The Communist Manifesto” while teaching children in a classroom decorated with communist icons. A Steel ad featured actors portraying Chinese Communist Party officers calling Chen “one of us, a socialist comrade.” Red and yellow signs in the district labeled “China’s Choice” by the Democrat.

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Veterans denounced the attack as an unfair insult to a military officer. And Asian-American groups accused Steel of dividing the community and perpetuating stereotypes at a time when hate crimes against the community have soared.

The campaign had heated up well before the primary, with Steel accusing Chen of misogyny for saying she relied on talking points from her husband, a prominent Republican Party official. She also said he mocked her accent when he said he “needed an interpreter to figure out exactly what she was saying.” Chen said he was referring to a written transcript of her comments, which he described as “convoluted topics of conversation.”