Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez will advance to a runoff for the 34th Congressional District, according to the Associated Press. Fellow Democrat and former L.A. city planning commissioner Robert Lee Ahn was in second place and claimed victory early Wednesday morning, as thousands of votes separated him from the rest of the huge field.
The two top finishers among the 24 in the race will meet in a June 6 runoff.
It appeared to be a surprising victory for the relatively unknown Ahn and was a predictable one for Gomez, who had locked up dozens of endorsements from elected officials, including Becerra, who gave up his seat to become California's attorney general earlier this year.
Complete results may not be available until Friday, when county officials are expected to release the latest tally, but with 100% of precincts reporting, Gomez was leading with 28% of the vote and Ahn with 19%. Provisional and late-arriving mail-in ballots are still to be counted.
Both Ahn and Gomez began positioning themselves Wednesday morning for what could be a costly general election.
Parke Skelton, a campaign consultant for Gomez, said the assemblyman's lead in such a crowded field was "astonishing."
"It's a testament to the strong base of support in the district and a powerful grass-roots campaign," Skelton said.
Darby Levin, a consultant for the Ahn campaign, said it was clear his candidate was moving on to the runoff.
"This is a mandate that politics as usual isn't going to work anymore," Levin said. "This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a victory for Jimmy."
It was a disappointing result for those who wanted to see one of the many female candidates in the race break through, and for those who hoped one of the several Bernie Sanders-associated progressive candidates would grab a spot.
The 42-year-old Gomez, who was accused of being entrenched in the Democratic Party establishment at a time when such a label seemed toxic, pitched himself as a true-blue progressive with a track record to prove it. A former union organizer, Gomez frequently touted his work to help expand California's paid family leave law, and his support of a $15 minimum wage and single-payer healthcare.
The 41-year-old Ahn, who would be the only Korean American in Congress if elected, spent major resources registering new voters in the Korean American community and turning them out at the polls. Korean Americans cast more than 4,000 early ballots by mail, according to an analysis by the data firm Political Data. He also tried to appeal to a wider audience on the campaign trail, saying he would bring a "business sensibility to the office."
With 20 Democrats and a Green Party member competing for votes in this district in the heart of Los Angeles, many hoped the outcome might indicate where the Democratic Party is headed next.
The spectrum of candidates running in the primary shifted the debate decidedly left: Support for a single-payer healthcare system, shows of solidarity with so-called sanctuary cities and speaking out against the Democratic Party establishment were par for the course during the campaign.
In one of the few districts in California that favored Sanders over Hillary Clinton in last year's primary, three candidates ran as self-styled "Berniecrats," hoping to continue the Vermont senator's "revolution" in Los Angeles. But as of late Tuesday, it appeared all three, Arturo Carmona, Kenneth Mejia and Wendy Carrillo, were trailing Ahn and Gomez by thousands of votes.
Ahn came from behind to out-fundraise Gomez in the most recent campaign finance figures and injected an additional $300,000 of his own money into his campaign coffers. Ahn has raised at least $330,303, not counting his own money, while Gomez amassed $540,360, much of it from powerful political committees and wealthy donors.
Gomez's base of support is expected to be wide in the 34th District, where half of the voters are already represented by him in the Assembly. Ahn faces an uphill battle. Korean Americans make up just 6% of registered voters at last count, and it remains to be seen whether Ahn's message as a business-friendly candidate would play well in the exceedingly progressive district, where just 9% of voters are registered Republicans.
Some had hoped that one of the newer faces running in the 34th District might break through. Of the 24 candidates, half were women, more than a third were millennials and more than half were immigrants or children of immigrants, like Ahn and Gomez. Almost all of them vowed to fight President Trump if elected.
At a polling place at Eagle Rock City Hall, video editor Amanda Taylor said she had been "pretty upset" with more moderate Democrats who have supported the president's appointees, particularly Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. "I kind of don't even understand why they are calling themselves Democrats," said Taylor, 50, who voted for Sara Hernandez, a Democrat and former aide to L.A. Councilman Jose Huizar. "With the current political climate, there are no deals to make."
The first congressional primary since Trump's election spotlighted some of the biggest points of contention in the left's campaign of resistance: the Affordable Care Act, immigrants' rights and the privatization of education.
The district, which stretches from downtown Los Angeles to Boyle Heights and incorporates Highland Park, Eagle Rock and Koreatown, is majority Latino and made up of several immigrant enclaves.
In a place where the median household income of residents lingers at about $35,000, outside money flooded into the race. More than 80% of campaign dollars going to the candidates came from outside the district, according to a Times analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.
At a party at his campaign headquarters late Tuesday, Gomez said he was ready for a fierce fight with Ahn. "I suspect he is going to be able to raise a lot of money, but I believe his message and his credentials will probably fall flat," Gomez said of Ahn. "I'm going to make a play for every community, every neighborhood, every single vote."
Ahn, in a phone interview from his election night party, said he felt "blessed" to beat expectations.
"When we first announced our candidacy, not many people gave me a chance," Ahn said. Of Gomez he added, "He's a professional politician and I think that politics as usual is not working for this country. We'll let the people decide."
Times staff writer Javier Panzar contributed to this report.
For more on California politics, follow @cmaiduc.
April 5, 1:03 a.m.: Updated with AP call in race and other details.
11:20 p.m.: This article was updated with interviews from Ahn and Gomez, as well as additional background on the race.
9:50 p.m.: Updated with more information on early returns.
8:40 p.m.: This article was updated with information on early returns.
8:05 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the polls closing.
5:15 p.m.: This article was updated with interviews with voters.
1:05 p.m.: This article was updated with reports of low turnout at polls.