Written by Associated Press
(AP) — California is known as a trendsetter, but in politics it can often embrace the expected.
A Hispanic legislator backed by the Democratic Party and powerful labor unions easily won Tuesday’s election to a vacant U.S. House seat in Southern California, after turning back a spirited campaign by a self-proclaimed outsider who wanted to become the first Korean-American in Congress in nearly two decades.
Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez won 60 percent of the 33,000 votes counted in the 34th Congressional District, according to an unofficial tally Tuesday. The count points to an embarrassingly low turnout in a district with more than 300,000 registered voters.
Gomez, 42, came to the race with advantages that usually win elections in heavily Democratic Los Angeles. His rival, fellow Democrat and attorney Robert Lee Ahn, was celebrated in the Korean-American community. But Ahn, who ran as an outsider, wasn’t able to significantly broaden that base or tap into enough support from voters weary of the status quo.
Gomez is the son of Mexican immigrants and was elected in a district where half the voters are Hispanic. He was endorsed by the party and a long list of prominent Democrats, including Gov. Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. He was backed by nurses and other unions known for getting out the vote. Supporters of Bernie Sanders were behind him.
He wasn’t an incumbent, but he had the endorsement of the former one — the seat was held for years by Xavier Becerra, another Democrat who stepped down after being appointed state attorney general.
The boundaries of the district that runs through the heart of downtown were designed to elect Latinos. Those were all important assets in a race largely ignored by voters.
Ahn, 41, the son of Korean immigrants, was trying to become part of what could be described as a political breakout for Koreans, who have not had one of their own in the U.S. House since the late 1990s.
Two years ago, David Ryu became the first Korean-American to hold a City Council seat in Los Angeles. Steven Choi, who was born in South Korea, was elected to the state Assembly in 2016.
A tally of mail-in ballots showed the candidates virtually tied. But Gomez was the overwhelming favorite of voters at the polls, a sign of the effectiveness of get-out-the-vote operations that typically come with union and party endorsements.
The two Democrats emerged closely matched from a crowded April primary that sent the top two vote-getters to the general election, regardless of party. Gomez snagged 25 percent of the votes and Ahn received 22 percent. Republicans account for less than 10 percent of voters.
As Democrats, the two candidates share similar ideas on health care, immigration and resistance to President Donald Trump.
Gomez emphasized his legislative know-how and broad support within the party ranks and from organized labor. Ahn, a former Los Angeles planning commissioner, promised to shake up politics as usual.
But Gomez was a more familiar name to voters — his state Assembly district overlaps with parts of the congressional district.
College student Jesse Narvaez, 23, said he liked Gomez’s plans for education, which include support for debt-free college education and protecting programs for needy children.
“As they say, they are the future,” Narvaez said, gesturing toward two girls sitting on steps outside a precinct near downtown Los Angeles.