Gomez wins 34th Congressional District race, declares 'real work' starts

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Semi-official vote counts show Jimmy Gomez scored a decisive victory over Robert Ahn in Tuesday's highly competitive race to fill the Los Angeles congressional seat formerly held by state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

By late Tuesday night, Los Angeles County elections officials reported Gomez had 60.1 percent of the votes to Ahn's 39.8 percent after 32,972 ballots were counted. Turnout among eligible voters was running at around 11 percent, signaling another low-participation election.

That number will rise somewhat as the county completes the ballot count in the coming days. Late vote by mail and provisional ballots are still to be tallied, but they aren't expected to change the outcome.

Ahn conceded the race to Gomez shortly after the first vote counts began rolling out based on early mail ballots and ballots cast at polling places around the district. The 34th district covers communities that include Boyle Heights, Koreatown, Eagle Rock and El Sereno.

Throughout the campaign, Gomez sharply criticized President Trump's policies and vowed to stand up against Republican efforts to erode the Affordable Healthcare Act.

“Now the real work starts,” Gomez said in an interview with KPCC, after addressing a crowd of cheering supporters gathered at his Eagle Rock campaign headquarters. "I know that it takes a coalition of individuals fighting against this very divisive agenda that the Trump administration and the Republicans are trying to push."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and several candidates who had competed against Gomez in the primary attended his election night party. Two handwritten lists of endorsements from several dozen elected officials and organizations lined one wall — one display of Gomez' path to victory.  

Gomez' win means his state assembly seat will now be filled in a special election. Gomez said it was too early to know the timing of his transition to Congress, but that details would be sorted out in the coming weeks. 

Ahn and Gomez, both Democrats, had been locked in battle to succeed Becerra since April, when the two prevailed over a crowded primary field and advanced to the runoff.

Mona Field, emeritus professor of political science at Glendale Community College who lives in the district, said Gomez’ win signals a very blue directive from voters.

"I think it’s clearly one of those — 'I will resist, we will resist the current president’s agenda, I will fight for your healthcare, I will fight for the environment,'" Field said. "I think all of those things are the Gomez agenda and the agenda of this district."

Field says Gomez’ liberal track record in the state assembly suggests he’ll deliver the votes that district residents want.

While the election will not significantly impact the Democrats' effort to retake the U.S. House, it had import on its own. With Gomez winning, he secures a district that has been represented by Latinos since the 1980s. Had Ahn won, he would have served as the first Korean American in Congress in about two decades. 

Over $2.5 million had been raised by the two candidates, with Ahn slightly ahead of Gomez in fundraising as of the latest Federal Election Commission reports.

Early on, Gomez had been designated the frontrunner given his name recognition as a state assemblyman and former political director with the United Nurses Associations of California. He won major endorsements from California Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and the Los Angeles Times editorial board.

Ahn's ability to match his opponent's fundraising, thanks in part to personal loans to his campaign, turned the race into a competitive one. His heavy campaigning among Korean and other Asian communities also fueled his chances. Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a Republican, and the L.A. Daily News were among Ahn's backers.

With few disagreements between the candidates on major issues, Ahn and Gomez debated who was more progressive. Gomez criticized Ahn, a former Republican, for stating his willingness to compromise with the GOP while Ahn attacked Gomez for what he characterized as the assemblyman's support from corporate interests.

In early mail ballots that were returned before election day, Korean Americans were casting votes at a higher rate than Latinos, according to elections data researcher Paul Mitchell, who pointed out that Latinos far outnumber Korean American voters in the district. But in the end, Gomez took an early lead, and that advantage continued to widen throughout the night as ballots from the precincts were counted.

Low-voter turnout has been a widespread problem in Los Angeles County. In the 34th district's April primary, just about 14 percent of registered voters participated.

This story has been updated.

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