State Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez was elected as Los Angeles’ newest member of Congress on Tuesday, defeating attorney Robert Lee Ahn in a sharply contested battle for the 34th Congressional District.
Gomez will take the seat vacated by Xavier Becerra, who became state attorney general earlier this year, and will represent one of the poorest, most immigrant-heavy districts in the state, where the effects of President Trump’s policies on immigration and healthcare will be acutely felt.
His election continues a decades-old tradition of Democratic Latino representation in the district, which stretches from downtown Los Angeles to Boyle Heights and incorporates Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Koreatown. If Ahn had won, he would have become the second Korean American elected to the House and the first Korean American Democrat.
Shortly before Ahn called to concede, Gomez, 42, thanked hundreds of cheering supporters for their efforts to get him elected and pledged to represent all of his constituents after a hard-fought battle with fellow Democrat Ahn.
“Today, our community said yes to California values, our progressive values,” Gomez said at his election party at his Highland Park campaign headquarters. “All of you here that helped me on this campaign, we are the resistance.”
Initial returns had placed Gomez and Ahn in a dead heat, likely the result of Ahn’s aggressive early vote program that focused on registering and turning out supporters in Koreatown. Data provided by Political Data Inc. showed Korean Americans, who make up just 6% of the district’s voters, made up more than a quarter of votes cast ahead of the election.
But Ahn’s sophisticated targeting and attempts at coalition-building were not enough to overcome Gomez’s vast Democratic and Latino support, which was apparent after the election day vote significantly widened Gomez’s lead.
“The Ahn campaign did a magnificent job in really energizing their base in this election,” said Paul Mitchell, who runs Political Data. “But the fundamentals of this district, I think, are hard for anyone to overcome. … There’s this baked-in advantage for Latino candidates in those poll voters.”
The district, where median household income hovers around $35,000, is majority Latino and had one of the biggest declines in the uninsured population after the passage of Obamacare. Becerra, who held the seat for more than two decades, was regarded as a fierce advocate for immigrants and the poor. He resigned the seat after Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to replace now-Sen. Kamala Harris as California’s attorney general.
The result is likely to be a letdown for many of the district’s estimated 17,000 Korean American voters, who responded to Ahn’s call to become more civically engaged following the 25th anniversary of the L.A. riots that left them feeling voiceless.