Democratic Establishment Favorite and Korean-American Newcomer Lead Huge Field in First Congressional Election of the Trump Era

As expected, state legislator Jimmy Gomez ran first in the low-turnout top-two primary in CA-38. But he will not be facing a Bernie Sanders surrogate in the general election. Photo: California State Assembly

It did not get remotely the kind of national attention being devoted to the special election in the Sixth District of Georgia, mostly because it involved an absolutely safe Democratic seat. But the very first congressional election of the Trump Era was held yesterday in Los Angeles, to replace Representative Xavier Becerra, who resigned last year to succeed Senator Kamala Harris as attorney general of California.

As it happened, voters in the top-two primary in the 38th congressional district, a heavily Latino and solidly progressive area, delivered a bit of a surprise. Yes, everyone figured Democratic Establishment darling Jimmy Gomez, whose Assembly district covers about half the 38th, would run first and win a slot in the June special general election (under top two, the two leading candidates, regardless of party or percentage, proceed to the general election). But the second position among the 24 candidates was expected to go to a fellow Latino pol, and likely one of the several candidates boasting of involvement in Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, which carried the 38th in California’s primary. Here’s how the Washington Post’s David Weigel explained it:

Arturo Carmona and Wendy Carrillo, two veterans of the Bernie Sanders campaign, won a combined 10.24 percent of the vote, and Carmona had been on track to do better before a series of social media posts by former female co-workers accused him of harassment and general arrogance.

In an interview with The Post, Carmona denied those charges, but they effectively snuffed out the chance of a pure “Berniecrat” victory in the 34th.

Instead of a “Berniecrat,” the candidate joining Gomez in the general election is a little-known Democrat and former member of the Los Angeles Planning Commission named Robert Lee Ahn, who ran a well-funded campaign focused heavily on turning out his fellow Korean-Americans, a relatively small but distinct presence in the district. In the widely scattered field, it was enough for a solid second-place finish (as of this morning, Ahn had 19 percent of the vote to Gomez’s 28 percent). Gomez will be heavily favored to win in June.

Aside from failing to deliver a “struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party” story line, the 38th did little to reinforce the impression that Democrats are impatiently waiting to snake-dance to the polls this year in massive numbers to smite Donald Trump and his allies. It’s hard to figure final turnout just yet, with a lot of provisional and mail ballots still out. But L.A. is famous for terrible turnout, and there was much hand-wringing over bad turnout in last month’s municipal elections. Perhaps California Democrats should have found a way to bait the president into a tweet storm insulting them as the special election approached.

Front-runner, newcomer pace field in L.A. special election.