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Cisneros, Kim to Face Off in Toss-Up California Race

Cisneros backed by DCCC

Young Kim is a former Royce staffer. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Young Kim is a former Royce staffer. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Democrat Gil Cisneros will face Republican Young Kim in the open 39th District in California, in what is expected to be a hotly contested race.

Kim secured first place in the top-two primary Tuesday night, but the Associated Press did not call Cisneros as the second place finisher until Wednesday afternoon.

Kim garnered 22 percent of the vote compared to Cisneros’ 19 percent, with 100 percent of precincts reporting according to the AP. Kim led Cisneros by nearly 2,000 votes. 

The race to replace GOP Rep. Ed Royce will likely be one of the most closely watched in the country as Democrats look to win back the House. Hillary Clinton carried in the 39th District by 9 points in 2016, one of seven districts where she did so. It’s also a majority-minority district, with a 34 percent Hispanic and 32 percent Asian-American population.

Kim, whose family immigrated from South Korea, is looking to connect with the Asian community — something Royce was able to do during his tenure. Kim worked for Royce for two decades as a district staffer, making her well known in the community. Royce endorsed Kim in the race.

“I don’t have to start from scratch,” Kim said in a recent interview at a Panera Bread in Brea, Calif. “These are the community leaders that I know.”

That was evident in Brea, where Kim addressed a meeting of people involved in realty and a number of attendees knew her by name and greeted her as if they had known her for some time.

But Kim will likely face a similar challenge that dogged her state Assembly re-election race, which she lost in 2016, where her opponent tied her to President Donald Trump.

“First of all the fundamental differences are there right? He’s a male and I’m a female and he’s a millionaire and I’m not,” Kim said when asked how she would combat Democrats linking her to Trump.

“Aside from that, I am representing [the] 39th congressional district and I’m running as my own person,” Kim said. “I have said that all along from the very beginning. I will support the president’s policies if it helps my district. I will stand up as I’ve done in Sacramento if his policies do not help with my district.”

Kim named the president’s opposition to sanctuary cities or jurisdictions that do not comply with federal immigration law, as an area where she agrees with Trump. She put some distance between herself and the GOP tax overhaul, saying some in the district feel it did not go far enough to help Californians.

Cisneros will look at tying Kim to Trump, he said last month in an interview before a community meeting in Hacienda Heights.

“I think it will work,” Cisneros said. “Donald Trump is not a popular person in the district neither is Paul Ryan. I think we can kind of tie them to that.”

Cisneros was the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s pick in the crowded race. The committee spent to bolster his candidacy and added him to the Red to Blue program for promising recruits.

Gill Cisneros is the likely Democratic candidate in the 39th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Gil Cisneros is the likely Democratic candidate in the 39th District. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Cisneros is a former Republican who voted for GOP Sen. John McCain for president in 2008. He said he always supported veterans and he also supported candidates who favor gun control.

“I think I’m pretty much in line with Democrats,” Cisneros said. “That’s what I want people to look at. Not going to worry about party designation I may have decided to choose, who knows how long ago.”

The first-time candidate also said his message cannot just be anti-Trump, and that he also needs to focus on issues including health care, gun control and immigration.

Kim begins the race with a financial advantage with $273,000 on hand as of May 16, the end of the pre-primary filing period. Cisneros had $167,000 on hand but also loaned his campaign $3.5 million in the lead up to the primary. 

The primary race attracted more than $1 million in outside spending, according to data from ProPublica. And it could get even pricier as the race moves forward in the expensive Los Angeles media market.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-Up.

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