Senate hopeful Tong meets with small businesses in New Canaan
"The way you win races like this as an underdog, which is what I am, is by working twice as hard, three times as hard as everybody else and getting out there and meeting people," Tong, who was in New Canaan and Darien Wednesday visiting small business owners, said. He paid a visit to various shops including Franco's Wine Merchants and The Life Aquatic in New Canaan and Town Ridge Cleaners in Darien.
Tong, who represents the 147th district of Stamford and New Canaan, is competing with fellow Democrats Christopher Murphy, a representative from the fifth district, and Susan Bysiewicz, former Secretary of the State, for his party's nomination for U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman's seat. It is one of the reasons he is campaigning in Republican strongholds such as New Canaan and Darien -- to get the word out.
"There are good Democrats here in town and there are good Connecticut residents here in town," Tong said. "And I'm speaking to Democrats in the primary but I'm also speaking to Republicans and unaffiliated voters in the general election. This is nothing new for me really. Going into a tough territory and into a tough campaign is something I have done successfully before."
Tong made history in Connecticut as the first Democrat to represent the 147th district back in 2006. He even won the New Canaan vote at the 2010 election, which normally votes Republican.
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"I won in New Canaan (that) year and that is something that is a critical point for Democratic primary voters and for voters in general," he said. "I am somebody that has a strong record of appealing to people across the political spectrum. That's what it's going to take to get this done"
Tong also made history in another way in 2006. He became the first Asian-American elected to office at the state level in Connecticut. He grew up working in his parent's Chinese restaurant after his father came to the states with just 57 cents in his pocket. It is that story of opportunity that instilled the belief of the American dream within Tong.
"Not just being an Asian-American, but being an immigrant has a lot to do with who I am and how I approach things," Tong said. "I've had to fight for most things in my life, like a lot of people, and it's not just limited to immigrants, but that's the condition. You're always in that mode of pushing, taking on tough fights, fighting hard, trying to do better, trying to get better and sometimes, trying to do things that no one has ever done before."
If Tong was to receive the nomination and go on to beat the Republican candidate, he would make history as the first Asian-American Senator in the continental United States, outside of Hawaii. Rather than show how his background makes him different from the rest of Americans, he believes it can really connect him with his constituents.
"You find these threads of connection. A lot of people here in town may share my story, or may come from small towns in Connecticut or small towns in New York or elsewhere, or maybe went to law school and business school and come from relatively means but now have the privilege to live in a town like New Canaan or Stamford," Tong said. "So that story, if you understand that a lot of people share it, is something that I'm proud to talk about in the campaign."
It was something he spoke about on the campaign as he to small business owners to see how they were doing. Tong believes supporting established small businesses in towns like New Canaan, Darien and others in Connecticut is one of the keys to an economic recovery.
"My focus is going to be on small businesses, which could be a company with 10 people, one person or could be 100 people," Tong said. "We need to expand small business lending and also access to capital."
Tong, who is currently the chairman of the Banks Committee, says he would leverage his influence as a potential U.S. Senator to get investors, many of whom already live in Fairfield County, to look at exciting companies in Bridgeport, New London and Hartford. As for smaller businesses and mom and pop stores, Tong believes the Small Business Administration needs to guarantee more loans through the community banks in order to give them some more breathing room.
"We need to do that to help our small businesses on the ground," he said. "We also need to build a research triangle here in Connecticut to capitalize on our traditional strengths in defense related manufacturing. A lot of that research is done in Boston at MIT or at Harvard and in North Carolina and other places. It needs to be done here because that means the professors at our universities and the entrepreneurs of the future, they get a first crack at the research and the ability to develop that research and bring it to the market."
All his ideas and efforts notwithstanding, Tong says he is not taking anything for granted on this campaign and vows to keep his underdog fight attitude to the finish.
"I feel like in this environment, I think a lot of us feel like underdogs right now," Tong said. "And I think a lot of people understand that this is not a front runner moment. We talk about reclaiming the American dream, well guess what? The American dream is an underdog's dream."