L.A. congressional election: Jimmy Gomez wins 34th District as Robert Lee Ahn concedes

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 to congress 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 campaign headquarters in Highland Park. “All of you here that helped me on this campaign, we are the resistance.”

The district 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.

Although Gomez and Ahn both said they were running to represent all constituents in the district, it was expected to be a low-turnout election, and the campaigns largely targeted their own bases of support. Gomez bested Ahn for first place in the primary with 25% of the vote to Ahn’s 22%. Gomez’s votes came primarily from the Eastside neighborhoods he’s represented since 2012, and Ahn enjoyed strong support from the west side of the district, which includes Koreatown, Chinatown and downtown.

During the runoff campaign, Ahn spent considerable time and resources registering Korean American voters and sent massive amounts of mail to Asian American voters, while Gomez’s campaign concentrated get-out-the-vote efforts on the Eastside.

Rick Bolton, 61, said after he voted at an Eastside precinct on Tuesday that he thought the district would be “well-served” by either candidate, but voted for Gomez because he was more familiar with his record. Bolton, a renewable energy executive, felt Gomez’s experience would make him better positioned to become a “national leader,” especially on climate change.

But he also thought it was “exciting” to have another competitive candidate in the race. “It’s great to see L.A. diversify its voter base and its candidates,” he said of Ahn. “We need more of that.”

Huong Nguyen, 34, said she liked Ahn because of his status as a political outsider. “I just wanted to vote against the guy who was backed by the [Democratic] Party,” Nguyen said. Gomez received endorsements from the California Democratic Party and dozens of elected officials in the establishment.

Nguyen, a screenwriter who lives in Koreatown, said she’s skeptical of any one party gaining too much control, and thought it was time for some “moderation and a refresh” in the race. “Anyone who is willing to buck trends and put country above party is who I want.”

There were signs toward the end of the campaign that the race could be tightening. Last weekend, Gomez invited labor icon Dolores Huerta to his Highland Park campaign office to help make phone calls. On Monday, Gomez held a press conference with Huerta and several of his primary opponents, some of whom received as few as 1,000 votes in April.

Garcetti and state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León were just two of the Democratic Party heavy-hitters who sent pleas via social media and text message to persuade voters to turn out for Gomez.

And on Saturday, an Ahn campaign volunteer was counting ballots on a clicker as they were dropped into the ballot box at Pio Pico Library in Koreatown, an Ahn stronghold.

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In a district where the median household income of residents is about $35,000 a year, more than 75% of the candidates’ money came from outside the district, according to a Times analysis of campaign finance records. Large chunks of that came from ZIP Codes in Washington, D.C., Sacramento, and Beverly Hills, as Gomez raised funds in political power centers and Ahn dipped into wealthy enclaves for cash.

Overall, Ahn raised about $874,000 since entering the race in mid-January, while Gomez received about $961,000. But Ahn loaned himself an additional $490,000, giving him a major cash advantage.

Ahn and Gomez spent little on TV and radio advertisements, focusing instead on mailers and intense ground efforts to get voters to the polls. The mailers sent by both sides to voters contained increasingly negative messages as election day approached.

Times staff writer Seema Mehta contributed to this report.

Go to latimes.com/essentialpolitics for continuing updates on the results.

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