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Young Kim defeats Gil Cisneros in another victory for Republicans in Orange County

Young Kim speaks at a rally
Republican Young Kim will be among the first Korean American women to serve in Congress.
(Chris Carlson / Associated Press)

Republican candidate Young Kim has won a congressional seat in Orange County, marking the second race in the county in which the GOP took back a district it had lost to Democrats during the 2018 “blue wave.”

Kim defeated incumbent Democrat Gil Cisneros in the 39th Congressional District, which spans Anaheim Hills to Buena Park and includes parts of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Kim, who has secured Orange County’s final congressional seat that had yet to be called, will be among the first Korean American women to serve in Congress, along with the newly elected Michelle Steel, an Orange County Republican, and Marilyn Strickland, a Washington Democrat. Steel defeated Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), who conceded Tuesday, to take back a seat that the Democrats flipped in 2018.

The Republican Party’s loss of the 39th District in 2018 came as a surprise as Kim had held a lead over Cisneros on election night. Days later, the race was called for Cisneros by 3.2 percentage points after mail-in ballots were counted.

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“Over the past two years, I’ve worked tirelessly to fight for the people of the 39th District” tackling issues such as healthcare and gun safety, Cisneros said in a statement Friday night after the Associated Press had called the race. “I’m sorry I won’t be able to continue that work in Congress this January. I called to congratulate Young Kim on her victory.”

Kim, 58, has served in the state Assembly and fostered ties with the California Republican Party. The La Habra resident ran on promises to change immigration and healthcare policies and simplify business regulations.

Kim started her career running a women’s apparel business and later organized community outreach projects for Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), who represented the 39th District for more than two decades before Cisneros, with occasional stints as a host on Korean-language radio.

Seen as an underdog to Cisneros, a lottery winner-turned-philanthropist and politician, Kim faced a disadvantage in voter registration as 37% of the district’s registered voters were affiliated with the Democratic Party as of October. Republicans made up 32.5% of registered voters and independents 28.7%.

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Last week, the Associated Press called the five other Orange County congressional races for incumbent Democratic Reps. Linda T. Sanchez, Katie Porter, Lou Correa, Alan Lowenthal and Mike Levin.

Porter — more specifically her whiteboard — became a popular freshman representative for her pointed questions during House Oversight Committee hearings. Porter raised nearly $15 million for her campaign, overshadowing her Republican opponent Greg Raths’ $1.2 million.

“We’ve been campaigning for two straight years. I thought we could pull it out, but it’s hard to run against an incumbent, and especially an incumbent that has 15 to 1 over me in terms of funding,” Raths said in an interview. “It’s almost impossible.”

Republicans will now hold two of the seven congressional seats in Orange County.


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