Candidates Robert Lee Ahn and Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez have begun their respective campaigns to win the Congressional District 34 seat in the upcoming June 6, 2017 special election. Emerging as the top two candidates from a field of 23 in the April 4 primary election, Ahn and Gomez now must work to distinguish themselves and motivate voters in this ethnically diverse district.
Early results in the primary showed Gomez with a significant lead, but once all the ballots were tallied the difference between the candidates was much smaller.
Ahn told the Buzz the day after the election that he was expecting his vote total to increase from 19%, with 5,504 votes reported, once the absentee ballots were counted. As of April 11, Ahn had indeed picked up almost 4,000 more votes, increasing his tally to 22.2% of the total, with 9,411 votes, according to the Secretary of State’s website.
Gomez also gained votes in the count of absentee ballots. He won 2,500 votes more votes, moving his total up from 8,156 initially reported on election day to a final count of 10,272 votes, though his overall percentage dropped from 28. 2 % to 25% as other candidates in the race also added votes in the absentee tally.
Though both candidates drew support from their bases, both told the Buzz after the primary that they aim to represent all of the diverse communities in the 34th District. They both rejected the characterization of the race as a contest between the Korean American community and the Hispanic community.
“It’s not correct to say that,” Assemblymember Gomez told the Buzz. “We did well in the race because we built a coalition of voters in each community.”
Ahn, who has never held elected office, positions himself the independent candidate in the race even though he ran as a Democrat in the primary. He cited the political establishment’s support for his opponent as proof. “Look at his donor list. It’s full of special interest donations,” Ahn told the Buzz, adding that he would offer “a fresh, bold, independent voice in Washington, D.C., instead of politics as usual.”
But Gomez considers his political resume and experience to be an asset.
“I had to make a decision: should I sit here in California where we have a super majority, or run towards the fight,” explained Gomez. “I am the best prepared candidate to take the fight on in Washington D.C. and help us [Democrats] win back the House.”
Though he admits it will be hard to get much done with Democrats currently in the minority in Washington, Gomez believes he can use the bully pulpit to push back against what he called a “damaging Republican agenda.” He cited his legislative record of support for LGBT rights, abortion rights, environmental protection and expanding family leave policies as examples of his commitment to listening to the needs of various communities.
For his part, Ahn cited his efforts on the redistricting commission as an example of his consensus-building skills, which are also much needed in Congress. Ahn, a native of Los Angeles, speaks Korean, English and Spanish fluently.
And both candidates hope voters will stay engaged.
“It’s been four elections in four months (including the Mayoral race in March). We’ve never had that before,” said Ahn. “Who comes out to vote is going to decide this race.”
“We are going to talk to everybody and campaign in every neighborhood,” said Gomez. “I never give up. Even if it doesn’t manifest in turnout, it doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.”
Regarding the low voter turnout in recent elections, including the District 34 primary, Gomez noted that it was hard for people to figure out where to vote when precincts were cut in half by recent redistricting efforts…and Ahn cited irregularities with Korean-language ballots, which confused some voters. But both campaigns are gearing up for a close election that will almost certainly turn on just a few thousand votes.
Though no candidate forums are scheduled at the moment, the Buzz plans to continue to follow the race and will keep you informed. If you are not sure if you are in CD 34, you can check here. If you are in the district, and you are not yet registered to vote or need to re-register, you can register online until May 22.