A Governor's Race for History Books

Gary Locke is on the verge of making history, and he's doing it with the blessings, and the substantial financial assistance, of Asian Americans across the country.

Mr. Locke, whose parents were born in China, will become the first Asian American governor in the continental United States if he wins, as expected, Washington's Nov. 5 gubernatorial election.

Many Asian Americans have achieved the American dream via business or academics, but taking the political path is a rarity.

"This is a very exciting time for the Asian American community," says J.D. Hokoyama, president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit group Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics.

"In the Asian Pacific community we don't have many people who run for as high an office as Mr. Locke is running for," Mr. Hokoyama says. "He's going to end up as spokesperson or key player in Asian American affairs just by the fact that he's governor of a state."

Locke has campaigned on his life as a blueprint for an immigrant success story.

At the turn of the century, his grandfather came to America to work as a house boy in Olympia, Wash., then returned to China, where Locke's father, James, was born. James Locke came to Seattle as a teenager, fought against Germany in World War II, and returned here to run a small restaurant.

Gary Locke was born and grew up here in a housing project for veterans. He attended public schools, earned a bachelor's degree from Yale University, and a law degree from Boston University.

Locke began his public career as a deputy prosecutor, became an influential state legislator adept in budgets and details, and in 1993 he was elected executive of Washington's largest county.

A liberal Democrat, he has lured moderate Republicans away from his opponent, Ellen Craswell, a Republican and Christian conservative who has worried many voters because of her pledge to run government based on Biblical principles. Recent polls show him winning by as much as a 2 to 1 margin.

The enthusiasm and support across the country for his campaign have not been lost on Locke. Of the more than $800,000 he has raised, about 17 percent has come from out-of-state contributions, most of them from Asian Americans, according to the nonprofit Western States Center.

With two weeks to go until the election, Locke actually left Washington State for a four-day fund-raising spree, mostly among Asian Americans, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and New York.

The unusual late-campaign trip illustrates how important Locke is to Asian Americans and how vital their support is to him. But it also showed how sensitive Asian Americans are to their popular image and their vulnerability in politics.

Many Asian Americans failed to show up at a fund-raiser in Los Angeles on Saturday when they learned that a co-sponsor was John Huang. Mr. Huang left the Democratic National Committee amid allegations that he solicited illegal campaign contributions from a prominent business family in Indonesia.

"People are concerned that all Asian Americans will be painted with the same broad brush," Locke told reporters. "People are afraid to be politically active just because they're Asian American."

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